Nelsons Conducts Bruckner’s Seventh

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Saturday 29th November 2014 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor
Stephen Hough  piano

Schumann: Piano Concerto 31′ Watch on YouTube

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 (Haas) 68′
Listen on Spotify

Stephen Hough’s encore – Schumann: Träumerei 

Imagine a symphony played by an angel. That’s how Anton Bruckner first dreamed of the blissful opening melody of his Seventh Symphony – and when you hear it, you’ll understand why: this is music that scales sublime heights and heartrending depths. For Andris Nelsons, it’s a labour of love; so he begins by teaming up with the incomparable Stephen Hough in Schumann’s ever-fresh love-poem of a Piano Concerto.

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Review by Ken Ward, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “It had been prepared by a series of woodwind solos, the woodwind also on excellent form, which were enhanced by the decision to fully open the hall’s reverberant chambers for the Bruckner, the slight echo amplifying the characteristic timbre of each instrument, clarinets, oboe and flute.  Nelsons, already beating a very moderate Allegro, had slowed down significantly to allow this passage its full eloquence.

For the first time with this symphony Bruckner makes use of a quartet of Wagner tubas, and it’s always splendid to see the players assemble on stage with these large instruments of glistening gold.  They have the reputation of being a little troublesome to play, but the Birmingham musicians were faultless and glorious to hear. Their big moment is after the Adagio climax where they play a dirge in memory of Wagner himself, who had died whilst Bruckner was composing the symphony, a dirge capped with a blazing outcry from the horns – all of this magnificently accomplished. And they have repeated chorales to embellish the progress of the finale, and these were again beautifully done.

Altogether it was performance with many such highlights, mostly passages where the sheer beauty of the sound and excellence of the playing gripped one’s attention.     […]

[…]    Stephen Hough’s performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto in the first half had been filled with intelligence and vitality, a display of absolute mastery. The balance of piano and orchestra, and the interplay between soloist and members of the orchestra – especially the excellent clarinet playing of Oliver Janes – was a delight to hear. After the meditative Intermezzo, the exuberant finale broke through with refined high-spirits, presenting a bright and joyful spectacle.

Hough closed the first half with a nicely executed Träumerei from Schumann’s Kinderscenen.  Nelsons closed the concert with a little speech in which he thanked the audience for coming, wished them all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and said that he was really glad that so many people came to listen to Bruckner: “sometimes people are afraid, but actually, as you see, it is absolutely magic and absolutely amazing, particularly with this orchestra”.”

Nelsons Conducts Bruckner’s Seventh

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Thursday 27th November 2014 at 2.15pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Stephen Hough  piano

Schumann: Piano Concerto 31′ Watch on YouTube

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 (Haas) 68′
Listen on Spotify

Stephen Hough’s encore  – Chopin: E-Flat Nocturne

Imagine a symphony played by an angel. That’s how Anton Bruckner first dreamed of the blissful opening melody of his Seventh Symphony – and when you hear it, you’ll understand why: this is music that scales sublime heights and heartrending depths. For Andris Nelsons, it’s a labour of love; so he begins by teaming up with the incomparable Stephen Hough in Schumann’s ever-fresh love-poem of a Piano Concerto.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “There was a wonderful sense of release as the opening movement eased into its recapitulation as Nelsons so patiently delineated the music’s architecture, and the extended coda’s dynamics were so well-managed over the tension-building timpani roll.

And out of all the orchestral contributions special mention must be made of Marie-Christine Zupancic’s flute, now fluttering like a dove, now radiant as a halo.

Around her and oboist Rainer Gibbons the woodwind section is rebuilding itself into the strength it once possessed, and it was good to welcome Oliver Janes, the 23-year-old grandson of John Fuest, one-time principal clarinet of the CBSO, into his grandfather’s chair.

The Schumann Piano Concerto could not have been a better choice for his debut in the position, full of poignant dialogue between clarinet and piano, and Janes certainly had a formidable collaborator in Stephen Hough, whose pianism combined authority with spontaneous generosity of phrasing.

Naturally Nelsons and the CBSO accompanied totally in sympathy, and it’s good to know that Hyperion recorded this performance, renewing their award-winning partnership of Hough with the orchestra.”     …

*****

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “The doors to the reverberation chamber behind the orchestra had been opened as wide as possible for the performance, and though that didn’t create the kind of cathedral acoustic that permeates so much of Bruckner’s symphonic thinking, it was enough to give a delicate colour to the work’s silences and to extend the effect of its cadences. Generally, though, Nelsons kept things airy and transparent; it was clear from the veiled lightness of the strings at the start that this was not going to be heavyweight, minatory Bruckner, but something much more athletic, direct and texturally interesting. If anything, the rhetoric was underplayed: the close of the first movement was not the brassy triumph some conductors make of it, but more measured and provisional, and even the shattering climax of the slow movement and the reconciliation of the finale kept something in reserve.

In some ways, too, the symphony had been upstaged by Schumann’s Piano Concerto, with Stephen Hough as soloist before it. That had been a performance of such startling freshness and clarity that one of the most familiar of all 19th-century piano concertos seemed totally reimagined, with the sweep and vigour supplied by Nelsons and the orchestra as the perfect foil to Hough’s cool brilliance.”

War and Revolution

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Wednesday 19th November 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Nicholas Collon  conductor
François Leleux  oboe

Britten: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes 16′
Listen on Spotify

Copland: Appalachian Spring – Suite 24′
Listen on Spotify

Strauss: Oboe Concerto 26′
Listen on Spotify

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9 27′

François Leleux’s encore (with the CBSO) – Gluck: Dance of the Blessed Spirits

1945: year zero. In the USSR, Shostakovich blew a raspberry at Uncle Joe Stalin. In America, Copland conjured a magical picture of lost innocence. In Germany, Richard Strauss was also retreating from the horrors of wartime into an idealised classical past. And in Wolverhampton, Benjamin Britten rehearsed an opera that would change the face of British music. A musical portrait of an extraordinary time – conducted by one of the most dynamic young conductors of our own day.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
MacMillan’s St Luke Passion, Thursday 4th December, 2014
Shostakovich Uncovered, Wednesday 11th February, 2015
War and Revolution, Sunday 15th February, 2015

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“It’s asking for trouble when an agent puts out a biography describing its subject as “recognised throughout the world as the best oboist of his generation”; you can sense the hubris gleefully waiting to pounce.

But there were certainly wonders in Francois Leleux’ account with the CBSO of the autumnal, delicious Oboe Concerto by Richard Strauss. His phrasing was mellifluous, and as open-air as the composer’s beloved Bavarian Alps; interchanges with orchestral soloists were sparkling and well dovetailed (special plaudits to violist Chris Yates); flourishes danced as though from panpipes, and he painted piquant shades of colour.

And for once I welcomed the encore, Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orpheus and Euridice, otherworldly and evocative.”      …

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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…     “After the interval, François Leleux played Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto. Still the seminal entity in an all too limited medium, it is also the pick from the several concertante works that this composer wrote during his ‘Indian Summer’. Chief among its attractions is the subtlety with which each of the three movements segues into the next, ensuring a continuous thematic transformation as reaches the deftest culmination in the coda. Leleux offered an encore, a limpid rendering of Gluck’s ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’.

Whereas Strauss recollects, Shostakovich in his Ninth Symphony provokes – though whether that was the intention in what is outwardly his most understated such piece remains unclear. Steering a vital course through the tensile opening Allegro, Collon brought out the wistful anxiety of the ensuing Moderato. A breezy Presto led, via the sombre pathos of a recitative-like Largo (with soulful bassoon playing from Johan Lammerse), to a final Allegretto whose laconic humour took on a much more aggressive demeanour in the breathless closing pages.

An alert and perceptive performance, then, of a work which also brought out the best from the CBSO. Nicholas Collon seems to have established a firm rapport with this orchestra, making one look forward to further appearances in comparably well-planned programmes.”

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Review by Christopher Thomas, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “By 1945 Benjamin Britten had reached a point in his career whereby he was redefining British opera, with Nicholas Collon and the CBSO heightening the still glorious originality of the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes in a reading that displayed a deft sense of light and shade in the fragile light of the strings in the opening bars as a grey dawn awakes over the East Anglian scenery. The gentle movement of the water was beautifully captured by the orchestra, as was the subsequent atmosphere of Sunday Morning, its pealing bells set against a backdrop of glistening waves and being portrayed by the orchestra with a bustling sense of activity as the local villagers arrive at church. The final wind ravaged Storm was dispatched with a crushing and masterly paced power although it was the evocative image of moonlight dancing on the waves in the third movement, punctuated by telling interjections from flute that made the deepest impression.

If the troubled psychological backdrop to Peter Grimes found Collon and the orchestra at their most evocative, Copland’s Appalachian Spring was imbued with a sheer joy and wonder that made a very direct impression on the audience in Symphony Hall. From the wide open spaces of the plains to the driving dance rhythms as the happy couple at the heart of Copland’s most overtly popular ballet celebrate their wedding day (the broad grin on Nicholas Collon’s face spoke as clearly as the playing) the joy was beautifully counterbalanced by the aching tenderness of the third section (Moderato) and the prayer like peace and serenity of the closing passages. When played with the freshness that it was here, the infectious accessibility and subtleties of Copland’s score remain vivid seventy years on from its composers attempts to re-capture the attention of an American audience that had become increasingly divorced from artistic culture.”     …

Russian Classics

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Wednesday 12th November 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Gustavo Gimeno  conductor
Simon Trpceski  piano

Tchaikovsky: Overture: Romeo and Juliet 21′
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 28′
Listen on Spotify

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 (Little Russian) 33′
Listen on Spotify

No composer puts on a show quite like Tchaikovsky – whether it’s the world’s most famous love theme in his Romeo and Juliet overture, or the high-kicking, vodka-fuelled festivities that close his shamelessly tuneful “Little Russian” Symphony. In his CBSO debut, the energetic young Spanish conductor Gustavo Gimeno should get the pulse racing – and joins Birmingham favourite Simon Trpceski in Prokofiev’s best-loved piano concerto.

http://www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “He made a favourable impression here right from the moment that he came onto the platform, shook hands with the orchestra’s leader, Laurence Jackson and then kissed the hand of his first desk colleague, Zoë Byers. It was a courtly gesture that seemed quite unaffected and which raised a smile in the orchestra.  His beat is expressive yet clear and his left hand conveys meaning too. It seemed to me that all his gestures were relevant and not extravagant and he appeared to have a good rapport with the orchestra, which played very well for him. He clearly relished the opportunities to unleash the power of the orchestra in this acoustic – though never in an excessive or vulgar way – yet there was also much dexterous, refined and neat playing to admire also. And how refreshing it was to see a young conductor pay the orchestra the compliment of dressing, like the gentlemen of the CBSO, in white tie and tails rather than in one of the loose-fitting jackets that seem to be all the rage these days.

The Macedonian pianist, Simon Trpčeski joined the orchestra for Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. In the past I’ve greatly admired his work as a concerto soloist in Rachmaninov (review ~ review) and he appeared equally at home in Prokofiev. David Gutman’s useful programme note quoted a perceptive observation by Hugh Ottaway that this concerto ‘accommodates nearly all the Prokofievs we have ever known’. Composed between 1911 and 1921 it contains passages of steely virtuosity and also fine examples of the composer’s lyrical gifts, especially the sweeping melody, so typical of Prokofiev, that we encounter in the finale.  The first movement, after a deceptively gentle start, soon becomes much more vigorous and the music often has a hard edge. Trpčeski despatched the often-formidable piano part with great élan. The second movement, like the second movement of the Second Symphony (1924-25), is a theme and variations. The variations are very wide-ranging in nature and I admired the way both Trpčeski and the orchestra under Gimeno’s direction, brought out the different facets of the music. There was much bravura brilliance in the finale but the aforementioned big melody was given its full value; it was worth waiting for. The ending was exuberant. I enjoyed and admired Trpčeski’s performance in equal measure – as, clearly, did the audience who responded very warmly – and it seemed to me that Gimeno and the CBSO offered him sterling support.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Between these two came Prokofiev’s Spring-like Piano Concerto no.3, Simon Trpceski the witty and affectionate soloist.

This is such a special work combining dewy freshness and sardonic cockiness, and Trpceski encompassed it all. His percussive playing was delicately poised, his open-eyed ruminations hinted at greater depths, and his amazing bravura did full justice to Prokofiev’s no-holds-barred conception (in some ways Trpceski surpasses what we hear from the composer himself on an ancient recording, but do try to get hold of that).”     …

Mariinsky Chorus sing Rachmaninov’s Vespers

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package,

SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 and Vocal Music

Saturday 8th November, 2014

Town Hall

Mariinsky Chorus
Andrei Petrenko conductor
Maria Shuklina mezzo soprano
Egor Semenkov tenor
Maxim Rannev bass

Ippolitov-Ivanov Blagoslovi dushe moya Gospoda (Bless the Lord, O my soul)
Bortnyansky Sacred Concerto No 34, Da voskresnet Bog I rastochatsya vrazi ego (Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered)
Balakirev Svyshe prorotse (From above the prophets foretold of you)
Arkhangelsky Concert for choir, Pomyshljau den’ strashny (I think of the dreadful day)
Chesnokov Da ispravitsya molitva moya (Let My Prayer Be Set Forth in Thy Sight)
Blazhen muzh (Blessed is the man)
S nami Bog (God is with us)
Rachmaninov Vespers

Encore – Rachmaninov – To Thee We Sing

Like every part of the Mariinsky company, the Mariinsky Chorus is a superb ensemble in its own right.

Tonight, chorus director Andrei Petrenko explores the foundations of the Russian vocal tradition with a programme of Russian Orthodox sacred music that includes Rachmaninov’s haunting Vespers.

Presented in association with Mariinsky Theatre Trust.

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Apart from individual details – the simple grace of ‘Praise the Lord,’ rainbow-like textures in ‘O radiant light,’ a creamily unruffled ‘Ave Maria,’ – the most noticeable quality was the Chorus’s vocal richness and balance, not just in the loudest passages, when every section could be heard distinctly (how many British choirs can boast an equal number of sopranos and tenors?) without assaulting one’s ears, but in the gentle shaping of final cadences under Petrenko’s understated, quiet direction.

And those inimitable Russian basses (although their bottom B flat was perhaps not quite as resonant as we hoped) and clarion-voiced tenor soloist Alexey Velikanov also made a huge impression, as did mezzo Maria Shuklina, who was heard to even greater effect in a Psalm setting by Chesnokov in the first half of the programme.”

Valery Gergiev and the Mariinksy Stradivarius Ensemble

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package,

SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 and Orchestral Music

Friday 7th November

Town Hall

Mariinsky Stradivarius Ensemble
Valery Gergiev conductor

Elgar Introduction and Allegro 14’
R Strauss Metamorphosen, Study for 23 solo strings 26’
Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings 28’

 

The Mariinsky Stradivarius Ensemble really is what it says it is – the cream of the Mariinsky’s string players performing on a magnificent collection of historic instruments by Amati, Guarneri and, of course, Stradivari himself.

With Valery Gergiev conducting in the intimate surroundings of Town Hall, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime evening of string playing without compare.

Presented in association with Mariinsky Theatre Trust.   http://www.thsh.co.uk

 

 

War and Peace

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Thursday 6th November 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Lahav Shani  conductor

Francesco Piemontesi  piano

Prokofiev: Overture to War and Peace 6′
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 34′
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 46′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Composed in wartime Russia and premiered to the sound of gunfire, Prokofiev’s Fifth was considered by the composer to be a “symphony of the greatness of the human spirit”. But, like his opera War and Peace, it’s also a stirring chronicle of a nation’s final push to victory. They’ll make a powerful Birmingham debut for the award-winning young conductor Lahav Shani; between them, Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto will be an oasis of calm.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Nelsons conducts Bruckner’s Seventh, Thursday 27th November & Saturday 29th November, 2014
Mahler’s First Symphony: CBSO Youth Orchestra, Sunday 22nd February, 2015
Brahms and Beethoven, Wednesday 25th March & Saturday 28th March, 2015

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Review by Peter Marks, Bachtrack:

Click here for full review

…    “The stakes were higher in the second half, featuring as it did one of Prokofiev’s most frequently performed symphonies: the Fifth. The clever programming meant that the overture, lasting little over five minutes, inevitably left the audience wanting more of the deliciously inventive Russian’s soaring melodies, masterful orchestration and cheeky dissonances. The orchestration was aided no end by another Shani masterstroke: trumpet vibrato. Strident enough to bring a grin to this reviewer’s face and yet tastefully in keeping with an authentic ‘Soviet’ approach, it was also symbolic of an orchestra transformed, electrified.

The symphony as a whole was ideally paced. Tempi were flowing and felt natural. All of Prokofiev’s miraculous orchestration registered, particularly the counterpoint in the lower brass. The tubist, bass and E flat clarinettists were particular stars. Shani placed greater emphasis on the grinding dissonances rather than encouraging the more patriotic elements in the music as can sometimes be the case. The swiftly taken first movement coda generated tremendous excitement, featuring icily powerful tam-tam strokes, and was capped with a breathtaking final chord.

There’s no doubting Shani is a risk-taker and what chutzpah for him to display this on his first concert with this orchestra, not to mention his first in the UK. The lively sardonic second movement scherzo and fourth movement gallop brought out a more animated conducting style, with the dapper conductor now reminiscent of a dancing Bernstein. In the third movement, Shani and the orchestra succeeded in transforming the seemingly innocent opening triplet figure in the violins into a terrifying presence later in the movement’s devastating climax. The symphony concluded in a thrillingly demonic fashion, bringing the house down. Only one more word seems appropriate: wow!  “

*****

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Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Pianist Francesco Piemontesi gave a gutsy, in-your-face, technically brilliant performance.

A reduced orchestra still overpowered the soloist, but piano cadenzas were scarily astonishing.     […]

[…] Symphony No 5 is hauntingly poignant with wonderful tunes on full strings, lovely woodwind – particularly clarinet – plus characteristic parallel octave spaces between solo instruments, contrasting with brilliance and grotesque roaring through the texture to terrifying heights.” …