Thursday 13th February 2014 at 7.30pm
Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Edward Gardner conductor
Sophie Bevan soprano
Mary Bevan soprano
Benjamin Hulett tenor
CBSO Youth Chorus
Mendelssohn: Overture, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage 13′
Mendelssohn: Two Motets, Op. 39 12′
Felix Mendelssohn was one of the greatest natural talents in the history of music. So when he challenged Beethoven at his own game… well hear for yourself! Hymn of Praise is Mendelssohn’s very own Choral Symphony. Birmingham audiences of 1840 adored it – and you will too, as Edward Gardner, the massed CBSO choruses and three first-rate soloists bring our Mendelssohn cycle to Symphony Hall. Two delightful rediscoveries complete a really joyous evening of music.
We are sorry to announce that Robert Murray has had to withdraw from this concert due to ill health. We are very grateful to Benjamin Hulett for taking his place at short notice. Read about Benjamin here.
If you like this concert, you might also like:
Der Rosenkavalier, Saturday 24th May
Strauss and Shakespeare, Wednesday 18th June
Mozart’s C minor Mass, Thursday 26th June
Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:
Click here for full review
… “The CBSO chorus’s considerable numbers risked being a little too resonant, but the sound was glorious; their contrapuntal lines were cleanly articulated, and they coped well with Gardner’s lively tempi. Seamlessly moving from one number into the next also helped things flow as never before. Tenor Benjamin Hulett and sopranos Sophie and Mary Bevan all projected the English words with intelligent, expressively shaped phrasing, and, in Gardner’s authoritative hands, new life was breathed into a work that suddenly seemed wrongly neglected.
By way of preface, Gardner had brought a similar airiness to Mendelssohn’s overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, its opening stillness wonderfully controlled. The fresh, bright girls’ voices of the CBSO Youth Chorus sang his Two Motets, Op 39, with elan and two solo sopranos emerging in the Tulerunt Dominum to show great promise. An uplifting evening.”
Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:
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… “There are extraordinary things in the three-movement instrumental opening to the symphony: so interesting one might almost think, had the work remained unfinished, it might still have merited attention like Schubert’s 8th, and still had its distinctive Lutheran hue. Gardner kept it all measured; bits that might have run away higgledy-piggledy never did so. The Allegretto ‘un poco agitato’, an all but Tchaikovskian waltz, should sound wonderful on disc; it did here, rendered all the more impressive in that Gardner periodically ceased to beat at all, teasingly letting his players play. The ensuing adagio was all the more impressive for managing to infiltrate the CBSO’s sensitive contrabassoon player, Margaret Cookhorn, into it without scarcely being heard at all.
Congenial though two significant solos from soprano Sophie Bevan were, I found her timbre in the finale edgy, perhaps not her best, compared with her finer-honed sister Mary Bevan (who sang the lower line of the duet ‘I waited for the Lord’, where they matched each other to perfection, with fine horn obbligato). The most satisfying soloist – standing in for the originally designated Robert Murray – was tenor Benjamin Hulett, always endowed with a particularly beautiful sound, but now with a meaningful dramatic edge honed by four years with the Hamburg Opera. Hulett’s virtual dramatic scena, ‘The sorrows of death’, was in its way a triumph; but then so was his nobly delivered preceding recitative; and his start, with Gardner, to ‘My song shall always’ – perilous at the best of times – was a case of perfect mutual osmosis.
The CBSO chorus vociferously witnessed the night departing (surely a Victorian and Edwardian hit chorus, even though the – then – City of Birmingham Orchestra perplexingly never assayed it in full till the Second World War); but the choral plum was the late extended hymn Nun Danket (here ‘Let all men praise the Lord’), sung a cappella with pleasing finesse and a wonderful feel for dynamics instilled by a batonless Gardner – an assured choral director not least. Additional credit to Julian Wilkins’s CBSO Youth Chorus, who with their trainer at the organ served up two rare Mendelssohn Latin motets, in which their part singing was confident, their distinctive sound at the start and end firm and nicely forthright, and whose soloists – one semichoral quartet, and – above all a- tantalising duet in ‘Tulerunt Dominum’, effortlessly filling the huge hall, were all but fabulous.”
Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:
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… “Whatever else, Edward Gardner’s was a reading that admitted of little false opulence and absolutely no sentimentality. Although comparisons with Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony were made right at the outset, Mendelssohn’s designation of his work as a ‘symphony-cantata’ leaves little doubt as to his intentions. The first three movements have an essentially introductory purpose – the initial bars setting out the imposing trombone theme which returns across the work and provides a ‘motto’ for all that is to come, followed by an Allegro where Gardner was particularly felicitous during the transition from the hectic development to the easeful re-emergence of the second theme. In the Allegretto, typically Mendelssohn in its synthesis of scherzo and intermezzo, he rightly brought out the shifting unease implied by its ‘un poco agitato’ qualification – and with the Adagio a song-without-words whose ‘religioso’ marking was never an excuse for indulgence. The arrival of the choral ‘finale’ was the more arresting through Gardner’s refusal to overdo the rhetoric in one of the composer’s most striking transitions.
The main problem henceforth is to prevent the vocal numbers from seeming arbitrary in their follow-through. That this did not happen here was owing to the swift though not inflexible tempos Gardner favoured, as well as a subtly changing expressive emphasis so that constituent sections cohered into a balanced and cumulative whole. He was aided by mellifluous singing from Sophie Bevan – her limpid tone complemented by the darker timbre of Mary Bevan in their poignant duet and an eloquent showing from Benjamin Hulett (replacing Robert Murray at short notice) in the ‘Watchman’ aria that was one of Mendelssohn’s inspired additions in 1841. The CBSO Chorus was assuredly not lacking impact in the energetic settings, while the chorale “Let all men praise the Lord” avoided stolidity through its unforced pacing and luminous accompaniment. Redolent of Handel while anticipating Brahms, the final fugue was vividly rendered – with the climactic return of the initial theme making for a decisive apotheosis. Whether or not a masterpiece, Hymn of Praise remains a work to reckon with.” …