Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony

ThumbnailPure Emotion

Wednesday 18th March 2015 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Stephen Hough  piano

Dvořák: Piano Concerto 36′
Listen on Spotify

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 55′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Stephen Hough’s encore – Dvořák – Songs My Mother Taught Me

Is Rachmaninov’s Second the most romantic symphony ever written? With its vast, stormswept vistas, endless melodies and rapturous love-song of a slow movement, it’s certainly a contender, and Andris Nelsons conducts it with unbridled emotion. First, though, he rediscovers the spirited Piano Concerto by Antonín Dvorák – with one of the world’s finest living pianists as his partner. http://www.CBSO.co.uk

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Blog post by Stephen Hough about Dvořák’s Piano Concerto – here

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “I must confess that I don’t know the concerto all that well – performances are not frequent – but it seemed to me that Hough and Nelsons made the best possible case for it. Both displayed full engagement simply through their body language – Nelsons was his usual expressive self. Hough’s playing was expertly nuanced and full of character while Nelsons and his orchestra gave him consistently marvellous support. The first movement, which accounts for about half of the entire piece, is full of Dvořákian stylistic fingerprints and in the introduction Nelsons set out the stall for this performance, shaping the music with freshness and vitality; later, several of the tutti passages were suitably red-blooded. The piano part is almost modest in tone – certainly by comparison with many other nineteenth century concertos – but Hough played it most persuasively. The movement as a whole was attractive and, in this performance, winning. 

Much of the Andante sostenuto second movement is gently lyrical. It was a great shame that the opening minutes were marred by quite an amount of intrusive coughing. There was a note in the programme that the performance was being recorded and the microphones were something of a giveaway. Even so the members of what my colleague Mark Berry has so rightly called the Bronchial Terrorists made their presence felt without, it seemed, making any effort to stifle the coughs. It is to be hoped that Hyperion will be able to get a less interrupted take of these pages either at the second performance of this concert or from rehearsals. The music itself was wonderfully delivered. Hough’s touch was delightful while the CBSO partnered him beautifully. Some lyrical asides apart, the finale is mainly high spirited in character. It’s here that the Czech folk element seemed most prominent to me. The performance was exciting and often exuberant; Hough and Nelsons were fully engaged and gave every indication of enjoying the music. 

The concerto may not be universally regarded as Dvořák at his best but the Symphony Hall audience gave the work and the performers an extremely warm reception. Stephen Hough sent us on our way to the interval with an utterly charming Dvořák encore. Watch out for the CD when it appears. ”     […]

[…]     “Instead the ardent lyricism of the music came across in an ideal way, the reading passionate and impulsive yet in a very natural way. This was a very fine performance. 

The finale surged in an exciting and confident fashion. Rachmaninov’s lyrical digressions along the way were given their proper due but never in such a way that the sense of purpose was sacrificed. The performance had great momentum and drive; Nelson’s conducting had an electric charge to it. The CBSO gave their all here and the music pulsated with life and energy. The blazing conclusion elicited an ovation from the audience, and rightly so.

 This memorable performance offered proof, if proof were needed, that this is one of the truly great Russian symphonies. I missed Nelsons’ previous CBSO performances of the work back in 2008, near the start of his term with the CBSO but I’m jolly glad that before he departs I have experienced him in a score to which he is so manifestly suited. My only regret is that I assume the recording microphones, put in place for the concerto, were switched off during the symphony.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Hough certainly made it seem the most attractive music in the world, making light of the more strenuous moments in the opening Allegro, adding silvery filigree to the Grieg-like passages in the slow movement, and steadily increasing the showiness of the finale. His Hyperion recording, taken from the Symphony Hall performances, should be a treat.

Nelsons followed the concerto with Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. He and the orchestra very much emphasised the score’s darkness and introspection, and in a work that can sometimes be smothered in sentimentality, there was never a hint of indulgence. The first movement was positively combative, the scherzo explosive, and even the long-limbed, languorous clarinet tune in the Adagio, elegantly played by Oliver Janes, had a sense of purpose about it. Nelsons handles such vast orchestral canvases magnificently, conceiving them as a single irresistible span, yet still managing to make sense of every bit of detail along the way.”    

*****

Review by John Allison, Telegraph:

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…     “Now we are about to get a new addition to the discography, as Stephen Hough’s thrilling performance with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra will happily be released on the Hyperion label.

At Symphony Hall, Hough and the CBSO’s music director, Andris Nelsons, shed fresh light on the work and its place within Dvořák’s output. Written in 1876, shortly before his first set of Slavonic Dances, it already anticipates in its slow movement the composer’s “New World” voice, but it also looks back to Chopin and Beethoven – perhaps even earlier in the rustic, Haydnesque innocence of the opening movement’s second subject. After a long orchestral introduction, the piano’s entry itself recalls the opening chords of Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto, and the finale’s mix of cosmopolitan sophistication and folk-rooted dance suggests supercharged Chopin.

Hough had all the delicacy and steel-fingered virtuosity that implies, and played with blistering brilliance where required. But what made this performance truly special was his musical dialogue with Nelsons and the orchestra. This is not a piece that plays itself, and in the wrong hands its paragraphs can sound disconnected, but Nelsons worked hard here to give it satisfying coherence. Ultimately, it was pure Dvorak.”     …

*****

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “When it eventually appears it’s bound to be one of the records of the year, and could well join Hough’s two previous releases with the CBSO (Mendelssohn, Lawrence Foster conducting and Saint-Saens, Sakari Oramo conducting) as Gramophone award-winners.

This time round it will be the Schumann concerto (recorded live at Symphony Hall last November), and the rare Dvorak, which an excited and packed auditorium acclaimed last night.

As Hough’s deeply-committed and dedicated performance revealed, the Dvorak does in fact have many Schumannesque moments, particularly in the opening movement, so the coupling will indeed be appropriate.

Hough brings probing thoughtfulness to everything he touches, and the listener is too transfixed ever to consider virtuosity.

He preserved the essential intimacy of the work even in a context which was perhaps too overblown for Dvorak’s ideas, with shaded reserves of tone and a dreamy spontaneity. The piano-writing is not that of a pianist-composer, but Hough was able to make the keyboard communicate tellingly, even at the normally thin top of its range.

This was a richly rewarding partnership between piano and CBSO, Nelsons and Hough breathing as one, and there were some gorgeous orchestral gems, not least the horn opening to the andante, and the bravely sustained long note from the violins at that movement’s end. Songs My Mother Taught Me, short and very sweet, was the perfect encore.

And so we came to what probably most of the audience had thronged to hear, Rachmaninov’s irresistibly wonderful Second Symphony.

There was so much to relish here: the quietly sonorous initial tuba entry; Zoe Beyers’ sweet solos from the concertmaster’s desk; a beautifully-phrased clarinet in the slow movement’s famous solo.”     …

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “Hough’s playing, too, was heroic in the many passages in which the soloist has to project their arpeggiated accompaniment to the main action that takes place in the orchestra. He also delighted in the moments of repose, including the lovely “Twinkle, twinkle” melody that cannot fail to cheer. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelsons played with both heft and beauty, though orchestra and soloist took a little while to settle their tempi together. Nevertheless, there were lovely solo contributions from the principal bassoonist in the first and second movements and the principal horn in the second, an achingly tender balm after the relative bombast of the first.

While it felt as though Hough and Nelsons were having to strain every sinew to sell the first movement to the audience, they seemed to relax and have a great deal of fun in the dance rhythms of the Allegro con fuoco finale. This was evidenced in Nelsons’ characteristic leaps from the rostrum and a look of pure delight from Hough when the conductor and orchestra pulled off a remarkable feat of rubato – a grand pull-up into the orchestral ritornello after the development section. I think it will be a while before I fully appreciate this Cinderella work but with Hyperion’s microphones present at least I’ll be able to return to this team’s performance when the recording is released.”     …

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