Strauss and Shakespeare


Wednesday 18 June 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Barbara Hannigan  soprano

Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture 11′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Abrahamsen: let me tell you (UK premiere) 30′
Strauss: Symphonia Domestica 44′

Richard Strauss wasn’t one to throw the baby out with the bathwater. His extraordinary Symphonia Domestica is a no-holds-barred musical diary of a day with the Strauss family, from morning lie-in through to bathtime for baby! It’s hilarious, heartwarming, and utterly OTT, and Andris Nelsons can’t wait to conduct it. First, though, come two enchanting classics – one a much-loved favourite, one freshly-written for the soprano Barbara Hanningan, but both inspired by the magic of Shakespeare.  


Available on Radio 3 “Live in Concert” until 25th June 2014 – here



Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “The result is ravishingly and astonishingly beautiful. Abrahamsen’s vocal writing makes much use of stile concitato, the repeated-note emphases that hark back to Monteverdi, and also exploits Hannigan’s ability to rise effortlessly to the limits of the soprano range. And he surrounds the voice with glistening, deliquescent textures that can seem almost weightless until a growling line in the bass brings them fluttering to earth. The music sometimes seems as much an exercise in memory as the text, touching on familiar, tonal shapes and harmonies without being explicit and embracing microtones in the final section.

Hannigan soared above it all with consummate grace and ease, while Nelsons and the orchestra made every corner of the score shine. It’s a very special piece indeed.”




Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “When presenting one of Richard Strauss’ lesser known tone poems, it helps to have the composer’s greatest living interpreter in total command of an orchestra on top form. And so it was with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s performance of the Symphonia Domestica under Andris Nelsons.

Andris Nelsons © Marco Borggreve

Andris Nelsons
© Marco Borggreve

 It was another of Strauss’s tone poems (Don Juan) in which Nelsons first demonstrated his affinity for the composer and established himself as the orchestra’s first choice for music director back in 2008. He is now in the process of recording a complete cycle of the tone poems with the orchestra. There is no doubt that Nelsons is able to conjure pure magic in this repertoire – he somehow becomes the music and even his crudest gestures evoke a most unanimous and convincing response from the orchestra.

Not one to shy away from self-portraits, Strauss followed up his autobiographical and fantastical epic Ein Heldenleben with a rather more mundane depiction of his home life in the Symphonia Domestica. The composer, his wife (Pauline) and his baby (Franz) all get their own leitmotifs (the former having the proudest of them all, of course). This performance was enhanced by surtitles gently informing the audience of the events occurring throughout the Strauss family’s evening, night and morning. Baby Strauss’s lullaby was gorgeously depicted on the oboe d’amore by Jennifer Galloway while his shrill cries were illustrated with brilliant woodwind trills and piercing trumpet notes.

The first part of the piece has the character of a first class cartoon soundtrack and every detail was vividly realised by the orchestra, the E flat clarinet playing by Joanna Patton being a real highlight. The CBSO strings were at their sumptuous best in the rather more adult-themed central love scene, in which it is clear that baby Franz is well and truly asleep. Nelsons encouraged a glorious tutti sound from the orchestra both here and in Strauss’ preposterously grandiloquent coda. I found myself marvelling at the spectacle of Strauss’ riotously colourful score, which is too clever by half in the hilarious double fugue ‘quarrel’ scene. I doubt I’ll ever hear this more convincingly done .”     …



Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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…     “More such ethereal goings-on had opened the concert with an account of Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826) that, if it marginally undersold the more expressive and heroic facets, was alive to those fantastical aspects that are to the fore throughout much of its length.

After the interval, Nelsons continued his traversal of Strauss’s orchestral output with the least-often heard of the composer’s later tone poems. Perhaps the indulgent scenario of Symphonia Domestica (1903) has militated against its being taken seriously, though such a narrative need not impede appreciation of one of Strauss’s most immediately enjoyable scores – its four main sections a day in the life of a bourgeois couple as well as the nearest approximation to a four-movement symphony in his maturity. So the exposition of amiably contrasted themes is put through its developmental paces in a lively scherzo, then a lullaby initiates the ‘love scene’ which acts as an extended interlude prior to the finale that reprises the main ideas with a cumulative excitement spilling over into the effervescent coda.

For all its equanimity, Symphonia Domestica is among Strauss’s most contrapuntally exacting scores and, while not all its textural problems were clarified here (a pity, too, that the quartet of saxophones did not make its insinuating presence felt more keenly), the balance between short-term incident and long-term cohesion was impressively brought off – making one look forward to its release on Orfeo in due course.”      …




Review by Geoff Brown, Times (££):

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard – for matinee performance, which included the Strauss:

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…     “But how much there was in Strauss. The whispers of Glockenspiel that sound the hours (seven-seven) for little Franz’s overnight dormition; the fabulous lilt at the start (like Don Quixote) of cellos (under Eduardo Vassallo), then oboes (Rainer Gibbons and Emmet Byrne, particularly tremendous on this occasion with both oboe d’amore (Jennifer Galloway) and cor anglais (Jill Crowther).

Add Jackson’s fabulously expressive solos (they are Sakari standard); the exquisite descending Wiegenlied – which links, organically, with other sections; and a hard-worked E flat and  bass clarinet (Joanna Patton, Mark O’Brien) – more telling than the four saxophones, which got to my ears got slightly clouded till near the end. When the tuba (Graham Sibley) gets his own bow, you know there’s been, in Nelsons’ view, some pretty extraordinary chemistry. He should know. He generates it.”




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