The Organ Symphony

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Thursday 30 January 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Kazuki Yamada  conductor

Francesco Piemontesi  piano

Stephen Farr  organ

Fauré: Pelleas and Melisande – Suite 19′

Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini 24′

Widor: Toccata 6′

Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (Organ) 35′

Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Francesco Piemontesi’s encore –  

Debussy – La Cathédrale engloutie

You   might have heard it in the film Babe, but trust us – when the Symphony   Hall organ crashes in at the end of Saint-Saëns’ mighty Organ Symphony   you won’t be thinking about talking pigs! It’s a long way from the gentle perfumes   of Fauré’s lovely Pelleas and Melisande suite – though when Kazuki Yamada   joins forces with the award-winning pianist Francesco Piemontesi in Rachmaninov’s   superromantic Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, there’ll be fireworks   aplenty amidst the poetry.

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Thursday   6th March

Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, Wednesday   12th March

Andris and Håkan in Concert, Wednesday   28th May

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Review by DPM, WeekendNotes:

Click here for full review

…     “And under the baton of conductor Kazuki Yamada, the Organ Symphony was confident and majestic, sweeping all before it.

Farr was also able to reveal his talents with Widor’s Toccata from his Organ Symphony No 5, a rich and colourful piece which really allows any organist the chance to revel in his, or her, skills.

When it comes to dexterity, pianist Francesco Piemontesi had it at his fingertips as he masterfully handled Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. One moment he was playing lightly with the orchestra, passing the musical baton back and forth, the next he was duelling with them, taking control of Rachmaninov’s delightful variations.

Beginning the programme was Fauré’s Pelleas and Melisande Suite in which the composer takes us on a journey through the doomed romance of the famous lovers.

Yamada had an easy rapport with the CBSO, clearly comfortable with all of the pieces of music and enjoying the experience of working with the orchestra. And the performance met with rapturous applause from a packed Symphony Hall.”

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review  (disagree with almost entire review – rare!)

…     “CBSO woodwind soloists can never fail to be eloquent, nor the strings (even if reduced by one desk each) deep-toned and agile, but the total effect was disappointing.

Similarly workmanlike was Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, another of the CBSO’s calling-cards. Yamada’s opening was crisp, he ensured a smooth flow throughout the sequence of variations, and he secured a warm empathy between the elegant orchestra and the well-weighted pianism of soloist Francesco Piemontesi.”     …

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Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “In this performance, conducted by Kazuki Yamada, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was so enthusiastic it risked drowning out the actual organ – which is no mean feat.

At the hands of Stephen Farr, the organ just about won out, but it was a hard-pitched battle. As the orchestra reached its triumphant conclusion even the audience felt a little exhausted by the energy.

Farr did have his moment in the sun with Widor’s Toccata from his Organ Symphony No 5, a rich and colourful piece which really allows any organist the chance to revel in his, or her, skills.

When it comes to dexterity, pianist Francesco Piemontesi had it at his fingertips as he masterfully handled Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. One moment he was playing lightly with the orchestra, passing the musical baton back and forth, the next he was duelling with them, taking control of Rachmaninov’s delightful variations.”     …

Scholl and the Academy of Ancient Music

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Wednesday 29th January

Town Hall

Academy of Ancient Music

Andreas Scholl countertenor/director

Klara Ek soprano

Vivaldi Stabat Mater 20’
van Wassenaer Concerto Armonico No 2 10’
Vivaldi Salve Regina 16
van Wassenaer Concerto Armonico No 3 9’
Pergolesi Stabat Mater 41’

‘The most important thing is the message of the music’ says Andreas Scholl. ‘Without soul and spirit, the music just doesn’t sound.’ Town Hall audiences already know just how intensely Germany’s leading countertenor lives those words; this concert finds him both directing the Academy of Ancient Music in two dazzling instrumental concertos – and letting his voice and spirit soar in three of the eighteenth century’s most expressive sacred masterpieces.     www.thsh.co.uk

British Classics with John Wilson

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  • CBSO 2020

Wednesday 22 January 2014 at 2.15pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

John Wilson  conductor

Paul Watkins  cello

Ireland: A London Overture 12′

Walton: Cello Concerto 30′

Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony 48′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Vaughan   Williams may have loved the countryside, but he couldn’t resist the capital.   Listen out for street-songs, buskers and even the chimes of Big Ben as conductor   John Wilson drives us through the fog – and enjoy John Ireland’s gloriously   tuneful take on the same bustling scene. Walton’s Cello Concerto, meanwhile,   comes from warmer climes; with Paul Watkins as the soloist, this is one trip   to London where sunshine is guaranteed!

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Ultimate Vaughan Williams, Wednesday   5th February

Mozart and Elgar, Wednesday   19th February

Belshazzar’s Feast, Saturday   26th April

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The twilit slow movement was serene and haunting, illuminated by Christopher Yates’ viola playing. 

I thoroughly enjoyed it – a slightly guilty pleasure like watching Downton Abbey while dipping digestives into tea.

If the symphony was a little paunchy, even after the composer trimmed it, then Walton’s cello concerto is lean and lithe without an excess note.

There’s not even a flashy cadenza but the two solo episodes in the final variation movement give the cellist the spotlight and Paul Watkins seized the opportunity.

Throughout he was fast and fluent with a full but not over-rich tone, just right for Walton’s musical sweet-and-sour mixture.

Wilson was attentive to details such as the magical touch Walton brings with just few judicious dabs of the tinkling celesta.”

Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Saturday 18th January

Symphony Hall

Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Joshua Bell violin/director

J S Bach (arr J Milone) Chaconne from Partita No 2 in D minor (for violin & string orchestra)
Brahms Violin Concerto 38
Beethoven Symphony No 3, Eroica 47’

Joshua Bell’s visits to Symphony Hall always create a buzz; and when the Academy of St Martin in the Fields was looking to appoint only its second ever Music Director, this ‘poet of the violin’ (Interview) was the natural choice. Today’s programme celebrates the whole range of their partnership, with Bell performing both as conductor in Beethoven’s Eroica symphony and as peerless soloist in very different concertos by Bach and Brahms.

Classic FM’s John Suchet says:

This concert brings you the three B’s of classical music: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, three composers who are a bit like the crucial foundations of a building. Without such solid foundations, classical music might never have been built to endure, as it has done, for hundreds of years.

www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “this piece and the rest of the programme all players showed a pleasing chemistry, resulting in a warm sound that was both intimate and inviting. A conversational atmosphere emerged, particularly where plucked orchestral strings provided a luscious delicacy in support of Bell’s virtuosity. The cadenza had me wondering how on earth a human being could possibly play that fast, only for Bach to then slow the pace right down for the soulful finish such that the audience finally breathed out again.

Bell was in his element playing the Brahms Violin Concerto and directing it at the same time, with plenty of body language, in which even his floppy fringe played a part! Appropriately enough, Brahms composed this piece for violinist and conductor Joseph Joachim, who received huge acclaim for the first movement’s cadenza, which the composer had left unwritten in deference to his friend’s musical prowess. Tonight’s crowd relished Bell’s take on this section with pin-drop attention, then burst into inter-movement applause after the beauty and explosive drama of the coda. The soloist himself had a moment or two to catch his breath and step out of the spotlight while the oboe, supported by woodwind colleagues, launched the Adagio, which the violin then beautifully echoed and embroidered, exploring a variety of keys. The finale took us into Hungarian territory, the country of Joachim’s birth. The playful folk dance rhythms were a breath of fresh air and I could sense a collective foot-tapping. A brief period of a calmer tempo intervened, to be followed by a transformation of the gypsy theme into an accented, exciting march in which the flutes in particular added to the general high spirits.

After the interval Bell directed Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony from the leader’s chair – or virtually out of it at times. His energy was reflected by the whole ensemble, and there was an atmosphere of intense concentration and a sense of urgency, an urge to convey the necessary heroism, in fact.”     …

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Review by Ian Harvey, Native Monster:

Click here for full review

…     “Bach’s Chaconne from Partita No 2 in D minor, is all dramatic runs up and down the neck of the violin, Bell performing an arrangement with just the orchestra’s strings that saw the sold-out audience rapt throughout.

Brahm’s Violin Concerto is one of the masterpieces of the romantic repertoire, at once dramatic and beguiling, sweeping and charging. Bell acted as both soloist and conductor, using his bow to count in the orchestra before taking up the violin’s sumptuous opening melody and showing why he is so often referred to as “the poet of the violin”.

For Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, Bell took his place among the first violins, conducting not from a podium but from a stool at the front of the stage, so that he occasionally almost leapt to his feet to get the message to the orchestral sections at the rear of the stage while seemingly conducting the string players around him with a mixture of eye commands, nods and sweeps of his bow.

True to its name, this was a truly heroic performance, the chamber orchestra reacting to the demands of both music and conductor to create a performance that was rich and polished with a fully enveloping sound.”  

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “A performance of Brahms’ violin concerto by a soloist of Bell’s immense talent cannot fail to have some passages of great beauty; here the slow movement did, and the first movement’s flourish with Bell’s bow pointing skywards drew a round of applause. But his decision to conduct (Maxim Vengerov School of vague arm-waving) made the concerto tasteful rather than titanic. Nothing to frighten the horses – nothing to make the angels weep. Bell’s decision to play Bach’s Chaconne from the second Partita for solo violin in an execrable and superfluous arrangement with string orchestra, by Julian Milone, was unfathomable”

Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet

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Wednesday 15th January 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Erin Wall  soprano

Strauss: Don Juan 18′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube
Strauss: Four Last Songs 22′

Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet (highlights) 50′

Love   never dies. Richard Strauss’s career went off like a rocket with Don Juan,   and you can almost smell the testosterone. A lifetime later, Strauss gazed into   the sunset and heard his Four Last Songs; ardour turned to serenity,   in music of transcendent beauty. As for Romeo and Juliet… let’s just   say that there’s a lot more to Prokofiev’s romantic ballet score than the theme   from The Apprentice. Andris Nelsons will give it his all.

If you like this concert, you might also like:

CBSO Youth Orchestra, Sunday 23rd February

Der Rosenkavalier, Saturday 24th May

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And the CBSO under Andris Nelsons responded wholeheartedly and movingly. Tuttis were sumptuous and well-weighted, and instrumental solos touched the heart; Elspeth Dutch’s horn-playing really hit the spot, but I know she won’t mind giving place to the solos of prince among concertmasters Laurence Jackson, his violin trembling on the edge of the other-world.

Nelsons had begun with some Richard Strauss right at the opposite end of the composer’s life, when he was a rising young buck taking the world by storm: the tone-poem Don Juan, whose coruscating opening notes were the first Nelsons ever conducted with the CBSO, and which launched such an ineffable relationship between them.

Double-basses were here ranged across the back, having swapped places with the percussion, and the twang of their pizzicatos was arresting. At the other end of the dynamic scale, the various interludes were gloriously dreamy, and throughout Nelsons’ gestures inspired not only his players, but also us in the audience, drawing our attention to relevant lines. We are going to miss him, and in a way are doing so already.”     …

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Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “Tonight’s performance opened with great panache, the music thrusting, urgent and colourful. The first love scene was expansive and ripe, expressively moulded by Nelsons. During the quicker music, which is, effectively, the development section of the piece, Nelsons got the orchestra to play with dash and brilliance – though they seemed to need little encouragement; the players were fully engaged in this interpretation. A lovely oboe solo from Steven Hudson was a highlight of the second love section; Nelsons shaped this whole section with almost extravagant attention to detail. The music sounded properly opulent and heroic towards the end but the quiet conclusion of the work was marvellously achieved. The performance as a whole was splendidly played, including many excellent solo contributions: the evening had got off to a tremendous start.     […]

[…] This was a most impressive performance by Erin Wall. In Frühling she offered ardent singing, her long phrases soaring over the mellow orchestral sound. Here, as elsewhere, it was perfectly possible to follow the words she was singing without recourse to the texts printed in the programme; that’s no mean achievement for a high voice faced with tessitura that is often demanding and a vocal line that can be florid. Singing September Miss Wall span a lovely line, her tone rich but not overdone. I appreciated especially the wonderful half-tone with which she delivered the last phrases of the song before Elspeth Dutch’s golden-toned horn solo took the music on seamlessly to its mellow close.  Beim Schlafengehen benefitted from radiant playing by Laurence Jackson in the glorious violin solo. When Miss Wall resumed singing after this solo the moving words ‘Und die Seele unbewacht/Will in freien Flügen Schweben’ soared memorably and ecstatically. Some conductors play the opening of Im Abendrot quite urgently, pushing the music forward. I can understand why but I prefer to hear the music taken expansively – yet not indulgently – and that is just how Andris Nelsons took it. You could see him visibly feeling each phrase the orchestra played. Erin Wall sang with great expression, phrasing generously. For much of the time her singing was soft and rapt yet such was the dynamic control exerted by Nelsons and his players that every note she sang was completely audible. The long orchestral postlude glowed beautifully, bringing to a deeply satisfying conclusion a moving performance of this song which clearly transfixed the audience. I hope very much that Andris Nelsons will include the Four Last Songs in his series of Strauss recordings with the CBSO; if he does I hope he will invite Erin Wall to be his soloist.”     …

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Review by Hilary Finch, Times:

Click here for full review £££

Russian Classics

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Thursday 9th January 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Hall

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Lars Vogt  piano

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 (Classical) 14′

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 27, K.595 32′

Stravinsky: Petrushka 34′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Lars Vogt’s encore – Chopin Nocturne ..

It’s springtime in old Russia, and as crowds throng the Shrovetide Fair, passions are  rising. But how serious can it get? After all, a puppet doesn’t have feelings…  does it? 100 years on, Stravinsky’s brilliantly original ballet continues to startle  and delight; while Prokofiev’s firecracker of a first symphony proves that a real  popular classic can still spring a few surprises. Mind you, Mozart’s last piano  concerto gives them both a run for their money – especially in the supremely skilled  hands of Lars Vogt.

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Mozart and Elgar, Wednesday   19th  February

Mozart’s Gran Partita, Wednesday   26th  February

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Thursday   6th  March

http://www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Nelsons’ footwork was indeed balletic (for a big man he is very light on his feet), and he drew a reading which was now buzzing, now subtle, wonderfully shaded and rhythmically vibrant.

The sequence of dances in the final tableau emerged as noble as those in Wagner’s Meistersinger (the dour Stravinsky would surely hate that comparison), and instrumental solos throughout added characterful contributions: Marie-Christine Zupancic’s fey flute, Rachael Pankhurst’s lugubrious cor anglais, Jonathan Holland’s incisive trumpet, and Ben Dawson’s vivid piano.

And that piano had just beforehand delivered Lars Vogt’s no-nonsense, pellucid and elegant account of Mozart’s last piano concerto, no.27 K595.

Vogt brought both crystalline clarity and well-weighted chording to his performance, confident enough in his accompanists to be able to add a discreet element of rubato where appropriate.

Less is more. No affectation here, just a pure love of this otherwordly music, communicated by all concerned.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…    “Since he took over the City of Birmingham Symphony five years ago, hearing Andris Nelsons reveal more of the works in his repertoire has been one of the most compelling experiences British musical life can offer. Last autumn’s announcement that he is leaving Birmingham at the end of the 2014-15 season has made each of those revelations seem even more precious. I missed his performance of Stravinsky‘s Petrushka with the orchestra in 2011, but thankfully Nelson has now returned to the work, and it’s one of the best demonstrations of just what an exceptional conductor he can be.

Performances of the second full-scale ballet Stravinsky composed for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes tend to emphasise the music’s modernism, and those aspects of it that anticipate the watershed of The Rite of Spring, which came two years later. Nelsons’s intensely vivid performance, fabulously realised by the CBSO, certainly did that, but it also showed how much of 19th-century Russian music, as channelled through Stravinsky’s teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, remains in the score, too. The way in which all the teeming detail emerged in high definition, characterised with such pictorial immediacy, was a thrilling reminder that Stravinsky’s debt to his St Petersburg training hadn’t been totally discharged with The Firebird.”     …