Thursday 5th March 2015 at 7.30pm
Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600
Berlioz: Overture – Roman Carnival 9′
Berlioz: Les Troyens: Royal Hunt and Storm 10′
Berlioz: La Mort de Cléopâtre 21′ Watch on YouTube
Janácek: Glagolitic Mass 45′
Listen on Spotify
“The fragrance of the trees was like incense,” declared Leos Janácek. “I felt a cathedral grow from a great forest.” And with its jubilant trumpets, thundering organ and raw, unbuttoned lust for life, there’s nothing quite like the Glagolitic Mass. The CBSO Chorus loves to sing it, and Edward Gardner gets the pulse racing straight away, with three barnstorming showpieces by Hector Berlioz. Hold tight!
This concert has been made possible with support from an anonymous donor through the Keynote Programming Fund.
Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post
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… “The Royal Hunt and Storm from Berlioz’ huge opera The Trojans made dramatic use of Symphony Hall’s spatial resources, brass scattered around the auditorium, Gardner drawing from the orchestra both pounding hooves and subtle sylvan delicacy.
But the real gem in this collection came with the early competition cantata La Mort de Cleopatre, where the gauche Berlioz painted vivid orchestral colours, pre-quoting the Carnaval Romain along the way, macabre both in timbre and harmony, and ending with a totally chilling death-rattle (Berlioz had once worked in a mortuary before fleeing into the arms of music).
Gardner conducted with flexible fluency and empathy with mezzo soloist Sarah Connolly (actually unacknowledged in the programme-book), singing with immense control and evenness throughout her range, and communicating the queen’s despair with self-possessed dignity.
Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass is as much a paean to nature’s life-force as it is to God.
It blazes with the earthiness of one late work (the Sinfonietta) and the pantheism of another (The Cunning Little Vixen).” …
Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:
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… “Sarah Connolly then joined the orchestra for the cantata La Mort de Cléopâtre. This was the piece that Berlioz submitted in 1829 as his third attempt to win the coveted Prix de Rome. The judges were renowned for their collective conservatism and so, since Berlioz didn’t trouble to dilute his adventurous style, the entry was unsuccessful. (The following year Berlioz submitted a somewhat more compliant composition and finally won the prize with the cantata La Mort de Sardanaple.) La Mort de Cléopâtre may not be top-drawer Berlioz but it’s well worth hearing and, my goodness, the music made a strong impression in this performance. The benefits of having a soloist and conductor who are highly experienced in the opera house were plain to hear. Sarah Connolly gave a gripping and completely convincing portrayal of the shamed, tragic queen, dishonoured and so doomed to die by her own hand. Her singing was intense and highly dramatic yet neither the sense of line nor her lustrous tone were ever sacrificed on the altar of drama. She was magnificent in the central Méditation (‘Grands Pharons, nobles Lagides’) and the way in which she almost whispered the queen’s last phrases was utterly compelling. Her performance was a riveting piece of musical acting. Edward Gardner matched her achievement, bringing out the highly original sonorities of Berlioz’s score and supporting his singer at all times. The very end, where bare-textured strings illustrate Cléopâtre’s death itself, was arresting. The astonishing originality of a passage such as that – and many others in the score – must have had the Prix de Rome judges calling for the smelling salts. […]
[…] As it was, Gardner was pretty persuasive in the familiar version of the score. Janáček’s pungent wind and brass writing registered extremely well – and there was a thrilling contribution from timpanist Matthew Perry – while the rhythms were crisply articulated throughout the performance. All the dramatic and exciting passages made an impact but the delicate side of this vibrant and colourful score was put across with equal success. All departments of the CBSO, with guest leader Charles Mutter deputising for an indisposed Laurence Jackson, responded as keenly to Gardner’s direction as they had done in the Berlioz items.
A strong solo quartet had been assembled. It’s as well we’d had the chance to admire Sarah Connolly in Berlioz for Janáček confines the alto soloist to a fairly small contribution during what is in the Latin usage the Benedictus and a slightly fuller part in the Agnus Dei. Predictably, Miss Connolly was excellent in these pages. The bass has a bit more to do and Clive Bayley was firm of tone and projected strongly. The main solo parts are for the soprano and tenor. Luba Orgonášová has the right timbre and vocal presence for this music and she impressed me. So did John Daszak who was not daunted by Janáček’s testing tessitura – Daszak’s profession of faith in the holy and apostolic church towards the end of the Creed was the thrilling moment that it should be.
There is a fifth soloist in this work: the organist. Thomas Trotter gave a tremendous display, coming into his own completely in the wild organ solo which is the penultimate movement. It was very exciting to hear that solo on the Kleist organ of Symphony Hall and, in a commanding and virtuoso performance, Trotter drew a wide range of sounds and contrasts from the mighty instrument.
There probably isn’t a British choir that’s more familiar with this work than the CBSO Chorus – I think they first performed it well over thirty years ago. Their familiarity certainly showed here. Expertly prepared by Julian Wilkins, the choir sang with the tremendous assurance, flexibility, agility and depth of tone that we’ve long associated with this excellent choir.
This was a fine performance of Janáček’s extraordinary score, which remains extraordinary no matter how often one hears it. It set the seal on a stimulating evening in Symphony Hall.”