Pictures at an Exhibition

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Thursday 29th May 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

 Andris Nelsons  conductor
Håkan Hardenberger  trumpet

Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin 17′
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Watch on YouTube

Dean: Dramatis Personae (CBSO co-commission: UK premiere) 20′
Mussorgsky (orch. Ravel): Pictures at an Exhibition 34′
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When Maurice Ravel arranged Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, he created one of the few adaptations that’s better than the original! From its opening Promenade to the majestic Great Gate of Kiev, it’s one of the alltime great orchestral showpieces. Andris Nelsons unlocks a real jewel-box of a concert as Håkan Hardenberger, probably the world’s greatest trumpeter, gives the first UK performance of an imaginative new concerto by Brett Dean. History in the making…

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Summer Serenade, Thursday 5th June
Thomas Adès: New Horizons, Wednesday 11th June
Strauss and Shakespeare, Wednesday 18th June

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Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “It is a challenging work – and not just for the orchestra. I had to smile when I heard someone saying in the interval ‘well I doubt we’ll be hearing that on Classic FM’. But CBSO certainly gave it plenty of energy and Hardenberger showed why he is one of the most in-demand trumpet soloists today.

While Dean may not be easy listening, it has to be said that Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

A series of short pieces all strung together by a recurring Promenade, the piece was inspired by an exhibition of pictures by architect Victor Hartmann, a friend of Mussorgsky.

It is very much a musical journey with the composer walking round the pictures and responding to each one. There is plenty of variety, a touch of humour and lots of grandeur from the busyness of the Limoges market to the impressive Great Gate of Kiev.

And if the audience wasn’t sure which picture we were looking at, we were given a helping hand with surtitles informing us throughout the work.

Under the baton of CBSO musical director Andris Nelsons, the orchestra seemed just a little hesitant to really give full throttle to this work. But by the closing pieces, the somewhat crazed Baba Yaga and the dramatic Gate of Kiev, they had it more in their stride.

The orchestra revelled in Ravel’s Le Tombeau of Couperin – dancing back and forth between strings and woodwind. Although this piece is a memorial to French composer Francois Couperin, it is anything but funereal and gives little hint of the angst being experienced by Ravel at the time.”

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Review by DPM (same?), WeekendNotes:

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…     “The UK premiere of Brett Dean’s Dramatis Personae was a well-chosen companion piece to the Mussorgsky as thematically it shared some common ground – the idea of a physical and personal journey encapsulated in music.

But while Pictures at an Exhibition is an illustrative stroll round a gallery, Dramatis Personae is a much more elemental search into the psyche. Dean’s central character is no longer the composer but a superhero, a single warrior, an individual.

Musically the two have less shared experience. Gone are Mussorgksy’s hummable tunes, replaced with a rush of instrumentation.

The piece depends very largely on the trumpet soloist and Brett could not have asked for a more able performer than Hakan Hardenberger whose adaptability has also seen him performing classical Haydn and contemporary Joni Mitchell with the CBSO this week.

Hardenberger, who also performed at the world premiere of Dramatis Personae, took to the piece with relish, clearly enjoying its challenges and the balance of interplay with the rest of the orchestra. At its conclusion, he left centre stage and took his place within the orchestra, a visual sign that the Superman’s battle is done.

Beginning the evening was Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. Although this piece is a memorial to French composer Francois Couperin, it is quite a light-hearted and quixotic work which eased us into the rest of the programme. ”    

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

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…    “The last movement, The Accidental Revolutionary, is inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and exploits a jokey element already present in Dean’s witty percussion writing. Now it was the turn of the virtuoso trumpet to lead, with Nelsons jacking up a filmic tension and emphasising its Ives-like marching-band episodes. Solidarity is all: two trumpets first gently echoed the soloist on either side, but, by way of climax, Hardenberger joined the orchestra to blast from within the trumpet rank. It was positively operatic and fun.

No greater compliment could be paid to Dean, who knows his orchestra inside out, than that of framing his Concerto with Ravel’s finely orchestrated Le Tombeau de Couperin and Pictures at an Exhibition. As ever, Nelsons found new detail, inspiring fine playing.”

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The other Ravel transcription was that of Mussorgsky’s pianistically rugged Pictures at an Exhibition; this is such a magnificent orchestration that it beats me why so many others have bothered to try it themselves.

Nelsons’ freely-flowing beat (having learned the technique, now he can modify it as he will) drew grittiness, sonority, desolation, brilliance, devoutness and total dedication from his players – among whom the whimpering trumpet of Catherine Moore was outstanding.

And trumpets were to the fore in the work sandwiched between these two transcriptions, the Trumpet Concerto of Brett Dean, a CBSO co-commission here receiving its UK premiere – and what an enthusiastic reception it was given by the thrilled audience.

Hakan Hardenberger was the soloist, totally immersed in the music even when not playing, his colourings via an array of mutes vivid and atmospheric, his agility in all Dean’s demands consummate, and his relationship with the orchestra as collaborative as chamber-music – indeed so, when he is the centre of a stereophonically-staged trio with two of the orchestral trumpeters, and later when he goes back onto the risers to join them.”     …

*****

Der Rosenkavalier

ThumbnailPure Emotion

Saturday 24th May 2014 at 4.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Soile Isokoski  Marschallin
Alice Coote  Octavian
Sophie Bevan  Sophie
Franz Hawlata  Ochs
Mark Stone  Faninal
Bonaventura Bottone  Valzacchi
Pamela Helen Stephen  Annina
Elaine McKrill  Marchande de Modes / Marianne
Ted Schmitz  Major Domos / Innkeeper
Ji-Min Park  Italian Tenor
Eddie Wade  Notary / Police Inspector / Servant
CBSO Chorus  
CBSO Youth Chorus  

Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier (sung in German, with English surtitles) 206′

Love conquers everything, so they say… but what about Time? In a fairytale Vienna, the beautiful Marschallin and her teenage lover are about to discover that a single silver rose can turn the world upside down. Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier is an opera that ravishes the ear, then breaks your heart to the sound of a waltz. Andris Nelsons has assembled a truly world-class cast for what is sure to be a highlight of the season, in his first ever concert performance of the sweetest and most sensuous opera of all time.

The approximate running times of Acts 1, 2 & 3 are 75’, 63’ and 68’ respectively. There will be a 30-minute interval after Act 1 and a one-hour interval after Act 2.

“I think this is my favourite piece of music. The music is incredible, so powerful.It’s romantic, passionate, beautiful and achingly sad. Every time I hear the end I get goose-bumps and usually cry. The singers will be wonderful,the story they will tell is a story of love,discovering love, setting a loved one free but it’s also funny and it will make you laugh. It will be such a special evening.” (Jane Wright, Violin)

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If you like this concert, you might also like:

Strauss and Shakespeare, Wednesday 18th June
Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, Thursday 19th June

 

A few reactions….*here*

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Review by LietoFineLondon, WordPressBlog:

Click here for full review

…    As her Octavian, Alice Coote married a beautifully bronzed and shining tone with incredible acting skill. Her comic turn and sense of timing with Ochs was brilliant and combined with the vocal splendour of her singing. There was a warmth and brilliance to her tone that didn’t bleach in the upper ranges and her technique – demonstrated in her ability to scale down her voice when appropriate – demonstrates what a unique and special talent she has.

And Sophie Bevan provided a steely Sophie. In character that is. Vocally she was equally splendid. Her lower and middle range has a beautiful smokiness to it and when she effortlessly rose to stratospheric heights in the Second Act it was breathtaking.

The remaining cast members all performed their roles with great vocal and acting aplomb. Special mention must go to Ji-Min Park’s Italian Tenor (and for his two handed farewell at the end of the evening); to Pamela Helen Stephen’s Annina and to Elaine McKrill’s Marianne Leitmetzerin. And also to Paul Curivici – his bright tenor promises a bright future.

And the final trio – let’s admit it – is often the ultimate reason for attending Der Rosenkavalier. Not only because it is the emotional pay-off we have known was going to happen from the Marschallin’s monologue in Act One, but also because it is the most sublime piece of music Strauss ever wrote.

And in Symphony Hall it was perfection.

Andris Nelsons daringly took the trio at a slower tempo than I’ve heard in a while. But he never lost control of its various strands, unfolding the glorious music with an authority that demonstrated he clearly knew the overall architecture of this opera. And not once did he allow the singers – as is often the case – to drown one another out. Each of the three vocal lines was clear and distinct as he drew them to that crushing climax at the Marschallin’s In Gottes Namen at which point the singers – and the audience – were overwhelmed by the orchestra. As Strauss wanted.

How anything could follow that was impossible to consider but Mesdames Coote and Bevan then performed the most sublime Ist ein Traum, scaling their voices back to the finest pianissimi I’ve ever heard.”     …

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

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…     “The transcendent beauty of the final scenes of acts one and three were most affecting, with Isokoski’s elegance of line controlling both the Marschallin’s emotions and her heightened awareness of the inevitability of losing her lover to a younger woman. Coote’s ebullience and acute sensitivity was crucial to balancing comedy and sadness, and Hawlata as an oafish Ochs gave a vocal tour de force. Milking every possible opportunity, he used both conductor and podium as pivotal points in the stage business.

The trappings of a full-scale production were hardly missed. Mark Stone‘s Faninal was highly impressive, Ji-Min Park shone as the Italian tenor and the CBSO gave even moments of operatic mayhem real clarity. Nelsons, meanwhile, drew luscious textures and transparent detail throughout, his immaculate handling of the sheer bliss of Strauss’s ending eclipsing all else.”

*****

 

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Review by David Nice, ArtsDesk:

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…     “From Act Two onwards, though, the performance fired on all cylinders. You can take the Presentation of the Rose as slow as you like, like Bernstein, and so long as the singers are up to it, the magic will work. As it did here, with Bevan’s ripe sound making hers at times a more voluptuous upper voice than Isokoski’s,even if its slimming to float was not as ecstatic as Lucy Crowe’s for Elder. The second duet, usually cast in the shade, was as luminously other-worldly as I’ve heard it, and with Hawlata waxing ever more boisterous, the shape of the act from its rumbustious climax down to the famous waltz scene went like a dream.

It usually feels strange when our Knight of the Rose takes the last bow, and rarely gets the biggest applause, but mine was certainly that for Alice Coote’s Octavian: full-toned and ardent, effortlessly brilliant at the top of the voice, when needed, but also magically soft from the tenderest exclamation of “Marie-Theres’!” in the breakfast scene right to the final pianissimo. She seemed to be enjoying every minute, too, and kept her femininity with two floaty wraps over a black trouser suit.

Nelsons might have opened up the cuts in concert, but that would have meant experienced singers learning more music, and we did get more of Ochs’s Falstaffian soliloquy before the waltz than at Glyndebourne. But finally we were there at the last hurdle. “It is at the end that a composer can achieve his finest effects”, wrote Strauss of the path to the great Trio and beyond; and Nelsons did that too, with an infinitely velvety cushion of sound for three great voices. Did I shed tears? I had trouble keeping the sobs from bursting into song. The ovation was mostly standing and absolutely ecstatic. That’s the magic of Rosenkavalier, and it doesn’t come more supernaturally bittersweet than this.”

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Review by Andrew H King, BachTrack:

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“The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and their Boston-bound conductor Andris Nelsons have a happy history of presenting opera in concert performance, and Sunday’s Der Rosenkavalier was nothing short of superb. Glorious singing and informed characterisations infused with wickedly witty humour and passionate sensitivity, made for one of the most entertaining Strauss performances I have seen.

Soile Isokoski © Intermusica

Soile Isokoski
© Intermusica

 

Beneath the sumptuous orchestral scoring and masterly vocal writing, Der Rosenkavalier is easily Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s most enduring comic masterpiece. Effectively a comedy of manners awash with genuine romantic sentiment, the plot hangs on the problematic relationships surrounding the four principal characters ranging from the neurotic, aristocratic and adulterous Marschallin, to her cousin, the self-important and obnoxious Baron Ochs, her teenage lover, the boisterous and fickle Octavian, and the pure, sensitive Sophie.

As Hofmannsthal’s poised but melancholy Marschallin, whose misplaced romantic fantasies are untidily hidden behind the bed – it’s all well and good giving her glorious tune to sing, but when it’s time to face the music she is engaging in an emotional relationship with a teenage boy about a third of her age – Finnish superstar Soile Isokoski was the image of respect commanding regal deportment. Always elegant in her Marschallin’s anxiety, annoyance or happiness, Isokoski sang with a clear, focused tone that ultimately failed to secure her Octavian, but won over every man and woman in the concert hall instead. In action, Isokoski was extremely economical and all unnecessary pacing about was eliminated, while useful visual gestures were restrained to the point of being nothing less or more than noble.

The 17-year old Count Octavian was magnificently portrayed by Alice Coote. A gifted actress, Coote filled the hall with full blooded, boisterous comedy and perfect diction as well as remarkable sensitivity. Her familiar rich, warm tone and sheer vocal force displayed some of her best singing across the board from hilarious caricature in her ‘Mariandel’, to poignant sensitivity in duets with the Marschallin or Sophie, and amusing confrontational scenes with the Baron. Sophie Bevan’s young, inexperienced but soon to be enlightened Sophie von Faninal was restricted to a purely ‘vocal performance’ in that she was working from the copy which, even in a concert performance could have achieved more dramatically, but the singing was excellent and Bevan, who gets the highest role of the opera, was phenomenally clear in passages of extended quick-fire diction or soaring melody – I would love to see her act the part on stage.”      …

*****

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Andris Nelsons, as adept in the opera-house as on the concert-platform, drew from his devoted players an account of eloquence and flexibility which did full justice to all the colours and phrasing of Strauss’ miraculous score. Concertmaster Laurence Jackson deserves huge credit, not only for his solo contributions, but also for his marshalling of this huge orchestra; from chamber-music (with the Maggini Quartet) to one of the most febrile scores in opera, Jackson has made a huge journey, and has triumphed every step of the way.

The contributions from Simon Halsey’s CBSO Chorus and Julian Wilkins’ CBSO Youth Chorus were vibrant and effective (the kids especially charming as they bustled around), but best of all was the wonderful team of soloists, from the motley crew of waiters and supernumeraries right up to the stellar principals.

And heading these was Soile Isokoski as the Marschallin, heartbreakingly dignified as she renounced her young lover Octavian to a girl much younger than herself. Isokoski phrased so creamily, and Alice Coote, her Octavian, employed such brilliant body-language as she moved from breeches-part to servant-girl, and back to bearer of the silver rose.”     …

*****

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Blog post by JV, WritingWillChangeYourLife:

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…     “Anyway, musically, it was a superb version. Orchestrally was beyond reproach, with a hall with a great, clean but also a bit resonant, acoustic. [sic] Nelsons did a version quite standard in the choice of tempi, that sounded just right.
Soile Isokoski was the Marschallin, a role who has sang many times [sic](has she recorded it? I’m not aware). Maybe she is a bit old for the role now. Her voice is not a particularly sensuous one, not either a big one (which was a bit of a problem next to the very big voiced Alice Coote, the Octavian). Having said that, she was amazing. Utterly amazing. Rosenkavalier, for me, is a great opera because of its sublimity. [sic] She provided the sublime element. Is there many characters more fully rounded in the history of opera? I cannot think of many, and all the others are from German language operas.
All the other singers were great. I loved Alice Coote, who was fully convincing both vocally and as an actress. Sophie Bevan was a Sophie acted with the score carried around, who stressed in the way she concieved the charcter the awkwardness and childishness in it. There are other ways to do it, but hers was perfectly convicing. [sic]Franz Hawlata was a good actor who improvised, moved around and gave us a fully convincing, even likeable, Ochs, with a voice that without being very big had a nice, rounded sound. Even the Italian tenor, Ji-Min Park, someone I never heard before, was perfect for the role.”     …   [all sic]

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…      “A special cause for admiration was the quality among the lesser members of the cast. As Faninal’s major-domo the young tenor, Ted Schmitz made a tangibly beautiful, strikingly focused sound. Four likely lads – Nicholas Ashby, Paul Curievici, Edward Harrisson and Joseph Kennedy – made a glorious ensemble job of footmen and general factota – Strauss gives them plenty to do. To have singers of the quality of Bonaventura Bottone and Pamela Helen Stephen – who is a character actress to be reckoned with, just as Bottone proffers glorious tenor coloratura – as the intriguing duo provided riches indeed.

Soprano Elaine McKrill made a nice, bossy job of Sophie’s Duenna/chaperone. That was no surprise: she has sung Isolde and Brünnhilde with some of the top conductors in Europe, and was part of both Simon Rattle’s Berlin Philharmonic and Antonio Pappano’s Royal Opera Ring cast.

Simon Halsey’s richly prepared CBSO Chorus had less to do than usual, but came up with all the goods – vital and attentive – as they invariably do; and the CBSO Youth Chorus had fun scaring Hawlata’s creepy Ochs witless with their sneery ‘yahs’ and ‘tee-hee’s’. Indeed, the orchestral flair and rhythmic finesse Nelsons drew forth in the ‘witching scene’ was one of the most perfectly devised moments of the evening. It all made for rich comedy alongside the exquisite beauty and poignancy of the main story.

Of course, it was the great final trio of Act 3 we were all waiting for, and as with everything else about this reading, Nelsons – who can occasionally overegg the pudding – did not disappoint. Resting mostly on a chair to conduct, with oddly relaxing consequences that benefited all, he conjured up timings that seemed perfect, time and again; he made wise decisions about when to ground the baton altogether and focus on his expressive left hand; and his balances were such that sections of orchestra never vied with each other to the detriment of the opera’s glorious dénouement. That was in the hands of, first, Soile Isokoski, perhaps an unlikely teen-tickler but utterly lovely in her expression of the conclusion’s honourable resignation: the epitome of noblesse oblige, by which the Marschallin yields up Octavian to Sophie and youth at last has its way.”     …

 

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Review by Anna Picard, Times: £££

Click here for full review

 

 

 

Pappano Conducts the Verdi Requiem

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14 Concert Package, SoundBite and Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Friday 16th May

Symphony Hall

Orchestra and Chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Sir Antonio Pappano conductor
Hibla Gerzmaya soprano
Sylvie Brunet Grupposo mezzo soprano
Joseph Calleja tenor
Carlo Colombara bass

Verdi Requiem 90’

Verdi’s Requiem has been described as an opera in all but name, and tonight Sir Antonio Pappano has assembled a cast worthy of one of the world’s great opera houses, including Joseph Calleja: the astonishing Maltese tenor who’s been attracting comparisons with the young Pavarotti. Pappano’s magnificent Italian orchestra and chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia complete an unmissable line-up: expect Italian passions to run high.

Classic FM’s John Suchet says:

A blockbuster of a work, Verdi’s Requiem is often described as the best opera he never wrote. Lavish, dramatic and downright scary, this piece will pin you back in your seat. Prepare for a whirlwind of a performance from Antonio Pappano, the Orchestra and Chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and a stellar line-up of soloists.

Wednesday 14 May: Unfortunately mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk is unable to perform due to illness, however, we are pleased to announce that Sylvie Brunet Grupposo will replace her.

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Review by TPR Central, PublicReviews:

Click here for full review

…     “This some hundred strong orchestra with almost as many choral voices begin the requiem with a sublime sotto sequence which in a lesser space than the Birmingham Symphony hall might be lost. One of the wonders of this work is the tremendous dynamic range of energies and volume. From this oh so delicate opening to the apocalyptic, destructive roar of the ‘Dies irae’ this work is a roller coaster ride of sound and emotion and we can see every molecule of this passion and emotion in Sir Anthony’s being as he conducts. To say he conducts is to understate. Rather he coaxes and wills the performance from his ensemble with multiple hand gestures right down to subtle butterfly movements of his fingertips. His facial expressions must be something to behold judging by the movement in the muscles of his jaw and neck. He seems particularly focused on the body of the magnificent Chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Sant Cecilia, whose voices are so crystal clear in this wonderful venue. Such beautiful diction and accuracy.

Of the soloists, bass singer Carlo Colombra has one of the clearest and best enunciated voices I’ve heard in a bass. Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo stands in for the programmed mezzo soprano who has been taken ill. Grupposo perhaps appears a little anxious but gives the great performance you would expect from one of her calibre and is visibly happy at the completion of the task. Soprano Hibla Gerzmava’s clear voice soars and blends beautifully with the chorus. The three of them along with tenor Joseph Calleja do Verdi’s work absolute justice.

The other star of this show worth mentioning is the Birmingham Symphony Hall itself.”     …

*****

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The Dies Irae thundered out aided by a wonderfully vehement timpanist, obviously moonlighting from his day job beating time for the galley slaves in Ben Hur. There was terror and magnificence but consolation too, as in the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia’s warm and burnished string playing (violins properly divided left and right) for the hushed opening bars. The Academy’s chorus was strong in all registers from the basses in Rex tremendae, to a soprano section replete with fresh young voices.

The vocal quartet blended well as a team and their solo contributions were outstanding. Whatever sins tenor Joseph Calleja may have committed, all he’ll have to do is sing Ingemisco and the Hostias as he did here and St Peter will fling open the pearly gates for him. Carlo Colombara was a rock-solid bass, sounding rightly awed and stunned in Mors stupebit, while soprano Hibla Gerzmaya encompassed the demanding Libera me without strain.”     …

*****

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Review by Colin Anderson, ClassicalSource (for the same programme / cast but in London)

Click here for full review

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Review by Colin Clarke, MusicWeb, SeenandHard (for the same programme / cast but in London)

Click here for full review

Haydn and Mozart

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Wednesday 14 May 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Margaret Cookhorn  contrabassoon
Rainer Gibbons  oboe

Haydn: Symphony No. 101 (The Clock) 27′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Mozart: Oboe Concerto 22′
Woolrich: Falling Down (The Grimmitt Trust Anniversary Commission: world premiere) 15′
Haydn: Symphony No. 102 23′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Andris Nelsons gets us smiling with two of the deliciously witty symphonies Haydn wrote specially for British audiences, and then throws in a very special bonus: the fantastically inventive concerto that John Woolrich wrote specially for the CBSO’s contrabassoonist, Margaret Cookhorn.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Andris and Håkan in Concert, Wednesday 28th May and/or Thursday 29th May (-Haydn)
Summer Serenade, Thursday 5th June

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “It was in the nickname-less 102nd that he really took charge, giving the first movement a Beethovenian fierceness, finding real pathos in the elegiac slow movement, with its solo cello threading through the textures. He delivered the symphony’s teasing final pages with perfect deadpan timing.

In between came two wind concertos. The CBSO’s principal oboe Rainer Gibbons was the elegant, understated soloist in, K314, the C major concerto that Mozart wrote for his instrument, while the orchestra’s contrabassoonist, Margaret Cookhorn, had a new work commissioned for her. John Woolrich describes his Falling Down as a “dark capriccio with lyrical moments”; the orchestra regularly tumbles down to the depths the solo instrument haunts, while dark-hued instruments – tuba, bass trombone, bass clarinet, cor anglais – mirror its sound-world. A battery of percussion, including two sets of timpani, emphasise the general unease. It’s a very skilful quarter-hour party piece for an instrument that doesn’t normally get out much, and Cookhorn made the most of it.”

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “A rare pleasure to hear two Haydn symphonies in an evening: rarer still to be able to repeat the experience at the next day’s matinee concert.

It was also a valuable listening exercise. Not that the performances of No.101 (The Clock) and No.102 differed from one day to the next, no reason they should. However, a second hearing provided an opportunity to appreciate the CBSO’s assured playing and Andris Nelsons’ occasionally revelatory conducting. On first hearing them it appeared that Nelsons, unlike Sir Simon Rattle, is not an instinctive Haydn conductor.

For example, the dynamic extremes he brought to 101’s opening movement and the sudden forceful accents, applied with a jab from Nelsons’ baton, seemed too calculated, an instance of conducting micro-management: nuance of the sake of nuance. A second hearing revealed that this was not the case: the subtleties are all Haydn’s and Nelsons was happy to reveal their wonders with the illumination provided by playing of wit and delicacy from the CBSO.

The switch from minor key foreboding to D major sunlight was done with dazzling sleight of hand and the andante’s tick-tock transformations were delightful. Contrast was high because the darker hues were always given their due as in 102’s sombre adagio, led by Eduardo Vassallo’s soulful cello.”     …

*****

CBSO Benevolent Fund Concert

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Sunday 11 May 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Sir Simon Rattle  conductor
Peter Donohoe  piano

Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3 44′
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 45′

When Sir Simon Rattle comes home to Birmingham, it’s always a special occasion. But with Sir Simon giving his services gratis in support of the CBSO Benevolent Fund*, this concert should be truly out of the ordinary – as he joins old friend Peter Donohoe in Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto, and conducts Brahms’s stirring First Symphony the way only he can. The world’s greatest music, made in Birmingham.

*The CBSO Benevolent Fund, registered friendly society 735F, exists to support CBSO players and staff, past and present, at times of ill-health or other hardship.

 *** To donate to the CBSO Benevolent Fund – see http://www.cbsobenfund.org.uk/ *** (“Donate” Paypal/credit card button, bottom of page)

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “This work needs giant technique to deliver it with conviction and Donohoe played it as if visited by the spirit of Rachmaninov. His thunderous percussive power was able to match the orchestra at its most forceful, yet the filigree passagework danced gracefully. Rattle helped the CBSO strings spin luscious lines in the central Adagio intermezzo, with the violas capturing something unmistakably Russian and soulful. Donohoe introduced the contrasting capriciousness with glee. The fire and passion of the closing part of the last movement brought the performance to a magnificent climax. Not surprisingly, the audience erupted.

It felt as though only Brahms could match such drama, and the CBSO played his First Symphony with a richness and expansiveness of sound that was gloriously all-enveloping. Rattle also coaxed out extremes of pianissimo as well as an easy fluidity. To the finale, he gave first an immense nobility and then a great urgency of purpose. It was all heady stuff.”

*****

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “The second movement Adagio revealed the extent to which Rattle had transformed the sound of the orchestra for this concert. The string sound was sumptuous and the conductor never ceased to coax yet more depth of tone from the players. Dark clouds were cast by an impressive viola section from which Donohoe emerged, in complete command of the movement, soulful without being overly sentimental. The eruption into the finale was as exciting as it ought to be and Rattle, barely needing to make reference to the score, used deftly concise movements in order to marshal his orchestral forces in step with the soloist. Donohoe conjured delightfully feather-light moments and was matched by some fantastic pianissimo playing in the orchestra. There was a palpable crackle of energy in the orchestral response as the concluding march gathered pace and the smiles of the players spoke volumes: this was a memorable performance.     […]

[…]     A master of this hall, Rattle barely glanced at the horns and brass, knowing that they need little encouragement to be heard. Throughout, the conductor’s attention was always galvanising the string sound. The second movement was a major beneficiary of this approach, again with small details like the hand-stopped horn note at the start all of a piece with Rattle in charge. The third movement was the dreamy interlude it should be. Brahms turned the late Classical notion of a scherzo and trio on its head in this symphony: the central section here becoming frenzied and exciting in comparison with the outer sections. Rattle continued straight into the final movement without pause. He and the orchestra built up the psychodrama effectively until the first thunderclap moment heralds the glorious horn melody, played here by Katy Woolley (Principal Horn of The Philharmonia). The movement became a riot of symphonic detail in Rattle’s hands before shockingly collapsing at the second thunderclap as Brahms commands. The coda was taken at an exciting but dignified gallop, with the triumphant brass chorale mercifully broadened only slightly for effect before a rapturous finish.”

*****

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Both he and Donohoe were on fire in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto (Donohoe’s 149th performance, he told me, of what he regards as the most difficult concerto in the repertoire). Donohoe’s delivery of the solo part was formidable, crisply articulated, dynamics beautifully judged (though what state the piano was in at the end I can’t imagine), and leonine at the crowning conclusion. Rattle’s orchestra collaborated as supportive listeners, always surging and well-balanced. And many people agreed with me that this was a performance which should have been commercially recorded.

Then came Brahms’ First Symphony, Rattle conjuring a huge string sound, sonorously-phrased, concertmaster Laurence Jackson leading, a firm bass foundation (perhaps an influence from Rattle’s Berlin), and wonderful wind solos. The brass chorale in the finale was arresting.

And all of this on minimal rehearsal time, as all services were free. I want Rattle for Conductor Emeritus, and will be writing more about that.”

*****

 

 

Rachmaninov and Shostakovich

ThumbnailRaise the Roof

Thursday 8 May 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrés Orozco-Estrada  conductor
Simone Lamsma  violin

Ravel: Alborada del gracioso 7′
Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1 38′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances 37′

Simone Lamsma’s encore – Bach – Sonata 3 – Largo

Far from all he loved, Sergei Rachmaninov dreamed of another world. The result was his Symphonic Dances: half-symphony, half-ballet, all Rachmaninov. Andrés Orozco-Estrada has been a real hit with Birmingham audiences; tonight he whirls the CBSO through a vision of ghostly waltzes, life-or-death gambles, and those great, unforgettable Rachmaninov melodies – and joins star soloist Simone Lamsma in Shostakovich’s tense political thriller of a First Violin Concerto.

“I love both Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 and Symphonic Dances – come and hear some of the juiciest Cor Anglais parts in the repertoire!” (Rachael Pankhurst, Cor Anglais)

www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

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…     “Simone Lamsma then took on the monumental task of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No 1. This is a work which demands a lot from its soloist who dominates the music throughout.

In the first and third movements, the violin is hauntingly melancholic almost digging deep into the soul of the troubled composer who wrote this work while out in the cold during the Stalinist regime. But in the second and final movements the violin takes on an almost fiendish power as it soars and dives seemingly without taking a breath. This is very much a work which takes no prisoners.

Rachmaninov brought back a touch of lightness to the evening with the Symphonic Dances. His final work, it harks back to many of the ideas he had developed through a lifetime of composition and performance.”   …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Simone Lamsma was soloist (we don’t need to be told she’s “glamorous”, as a London broadsheet once trilled), and brought an impassioned outpouring of line and texture to the music, Orozco-Strada (sic) and the orchestra collaborating with measured sonority. This was a committed reading of a perhaps over-rated work. Lamsma’s Bach encore was calming balm in a disturbing evening.”

 

Tchaikovsky from the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14 Concert Package, SoundBite and Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Tuesday 6th May 2014

Symphony Hall

Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
Yuri Simonov conductor
Natalie Clein cello

Tchaikovsky Symphonic Poem, Francesca da Rimini 22’
Shostakovich Cello Concerto No 1 28’
Tchaikovsky Symphony No 4 44’

Natalie Clein’s encore – Britten – Cello Suite No 3  – Introduzione: Lento

Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra’s encores! –

Tchaikovsky  – Alla Tedesca from Symphony No 3

Shostakovich – Polka from the Golden Age Ballet

Elgar – Nimrod

Dvořák – Slavonic Dance 10

Dvořák – Slavonic Dance 8

It’s hard to define, but when a Russian orchestra plays Russian music, something very special happens. The Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra is drenched in that tradition, and under veteran Music Director Yuri Simonov, we can expect intensely committed readings of two of Tchaikovsky’s most personal works.

Natalie Clein, meanwhile, is always popular at Symphony Hall: tonight she has near-perfect partners for Shostakovich’s taut political thriller of a cello concerto. http://www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Tchaikovsky had been the main element in the programme, beginning with Francesca da Rimini, timbres dark and sombre at the opening, strings leaping and searing under Simonov’s understated beat, and with a sorrowingly searching clarinet narrative. Also remarkable were the splendid cellos, lamenting under fluttering flutes in this wonderful piece.

Even more wonderful is Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, tortured yet determined, and there was much to admire here, with stirring brass, sweeping phrasing and often organ-like chording. Woodwind nuances were delicate, but sometimes overwhelmed by the surging strings, and Simonov’s tempo for the famous pizzicato scherzo was decidedly staid; I think he was trying to make some kind of point, but its relevance escaped me.

Never mind; as a concept this interpretation was shattering.

Interspersed was Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, a work laden with coded messages I am sure, and delivered with unremitting energy and impassioned line-unfolding by soloist Natalie Clein.”     …

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “Like a good many Russian orchestras, it retains a distinctively Soviet sound albeit with some of the harder edges smoothed out slightly. The portentous opening to Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini featured an upbeat from a particularly full-throated double bass section, highly responsive to Simonov’s gestures. The conductor adopted a statuesque posture throughout Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem, somehow managing to summon terrifying blasts of sound in climactic moments with only discreet, staccato movements. In this respect, Dante’s Inferno was spectacularly and vividly conjured by Simonov and the orchestra.

Francesca herself was well-represented by a lovely clarinet cadenza, with the ensuing central section providing some much needed relief from the swirling vortices of sound, though hers is a melody laced with melancholy, as might be expected from this composer. The wind soloists of this orchestra were particularly fine, if not always possessing infallible intonation in some of the tutti sections. The brassy peroration featured a notably ‘narrow-bore’ sound and led to a terrifying climax.”     …