Symphonie Fantastique

Wednesday 29th April, 7.30pm

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


  • Dvořák Cello Concerto in B minor, 40′
  • Berlioz Symphonie fantastique , 59′

All you need is love! When Hector Berlioz couldn’t get the girl of his dreams, he wrote her a symphony: a huge, crazy, opium fuelled riot of supernatural fantasies and star-crossed passion. It’s quite simply… well, fantastic! And Dvořák took a boyhood romance and a vision of Niagara Falls, and poured them into the most ardent cello concerto ever written. Jian Wang tells the story tonight.
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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:
Click here for full review

  “Before conclusions, it was soloist Jian Wang in the spotlight for the Dvořák Cello Concerto; by any standards this was a dazzling exhibition. After the opening statement on clarinets and bassoons, the crescendo of Znaider was ferocious if perhaps a little uneven. As the first subject is tossed around in the allegro, the contribution from the lower strings seemed more pronounced than I have noticed before, but it was an interpretation that was decidedly pleasing to my ear. The horn delivered the gorgeous second subject and after some typical Dvořákian string gaiety, Wang forcefully entered, displaying his talents to the full: a velvet caress at the bottom end, a delicate touch on the ‘A’ string, a fluidity to the semiquavers and an aggression when required in the codas. I wondered what make his instrument was – the programme merely said it was on loan. His dynamic control and use of vibrato portrayed a formidable technique, and his ability to sit back, adjust his spectacles, and enter from a relaxed position at the precise moment, was uncanny. As Dvořák interweaved his two subjects in the central section, the CBSO players exuded a sense of utter jubilation, a mood confirmed by the return to the opening theme that closes the movement.

The cello again allows others to open the second movement, adagio, ma non troppo. This time it was a wonderful combination of Oliver Janes on clarinet and the bassoons who discharged one of Dvořák’s touchingly melancholic tunes, made all the more poignant by the Chinese virtuoso’s entry. The discussion between soloist and the woodwinds was animated; broken by a sudden outburst from the orchestra and amplified by the brass and percussion sections, it heralds the lied ‘Leave me alone’, inspired by the composer’s love for Josefina Cermakova. There was now an intensity to Jang’s playing that infused the auditorium, a line of melody that was remarkably painted. The interplay between Jang and Marie-Christine Zupancic on flute was another magical moment, as was the bird-like interjections of Rainer Gibbons on oboe. The finale, allegro moderato, contains a complex three-part rondo, begun enthusiastically by the soloist. But the main message of Jang and the CBSO was one of recapitulation, highlighting the glorious way Dvořák treats his native folk songs. The well-deserved appreciation for Jang brought a snippet of an encore from a Bach cello suite.”     ….

Czech Philharmonic perform Mahler

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

Friday 24th April, 7:30pm

Symphony Hall

Czech Philharmonic
CBSO Chorus
Jiří Bělohlávek conductor
Sarah Fox soprano
Jana Hrochová Wallingerová mezzo soprano
Josef Špaček violin

Bruch Violin Concerto No 1 24’
Mahler Symphony No 2, Resurrection 8

Mahler’s epic Resurrection Symphony has a very special place in the hearts of Birmingham audiences, and the opportunity to hear it played by an orchestra steeped in Mahler’s native central European tradition makes this one of the undoubted highlights of our season.

Birmingham’s own, world-renowned CBSO Chorus joins the Czech Philharmonic’s veteran music director Jiří Bělohlávek.

You can listen to a specially created playlist by clicking here .


Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “This was an excellent programme choice, a highly popular work from a German contemporary of Mahler, but centred on the romantic tradition that contrasted perfectly with the symphony’s soul searching solemnity. The virtuosic challenges were met by the Czech Philharmonic’s young leader, Josef Špaček. From the outset the conductor and orchestra were on top form, gauging the tempo, balance and warmth of sound perfectly. Špaček did not so much play over the orchestra, but worked within it, delivering an astoundingly mature performance for one still under thirty. His tone is rich and full and he was able to meet the technical demands of the concerto without any unnecessary fuss.

Rather than egotistically showcasing his lightning dexterity, Špaček is an unassuming musician who explores the finer nuances of the music and causes the listener to concentrate more on his interpretation than his skill. This was particularly noticeable in the Adagio where his phrasing matched and complemented the collective with lyrical precision. Špaček ensured the audience got more than a programme-filler with this concerto, and their response to him signalled that he completely won them over.

After the interval a lone figure looked down at the stalls from the magnificent organ over the rows of the choir seats accommodating the CBSO Chorus. They, in turn, sat above all conceivable manner of timpani, percussion, gongs and harps overseeing the large stage crammed full to the brim with the sections of the orchestra. At the centre, Jiří Bělohlávek somehow had to control this colossal cast. Furthermore he had to do so before a concert hall that has seen other great conductors, such as Andris Nelsons, deliver this piece to great acclaim. Indeed, the symphony has a special significance to Birmingham Symphony Hall, being the first piece ever performed here at its inaugural concert by the CBSO under Sir Simon Rattle. Could the Czechs, promising so much before the interval, deliver on the expectations that they had aroused?

The opening chord from the violins immediately dispelled any doubt, creating a tension that Bělohlávek never let up for a moment. The basses were strident and bold in their entry and the long first movement was underway. The balance between sections was consistently good throughout, regardless of the dynamics which went from a barely audible pianissimo to thunderclap fortissimo at the flick of Bělohlávek’s fingers. Here was a man in total control of a unified world class orchestra. There are no weak areas in orchestras of this quality, however one could not help but be impressed with the French horns as they paired sympathetically with the other instruments, reflecting through tone and timbre the ever-changing moods and dramatic dynamics of the piece. ”     …


Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Bělohlávek allowed a two-three minute break before the second movement, in keeping with Mahler’s wishes (although perhaps slightly more than he had planned in order to settle everyone down after the annoying ripple of applause that greeted the two soloists). The triple-time of the Andante moderato was overtly stated by the baton of the ex-BBC SO maestro, the initialLändler theme clearly stated without any need for flamboyancy of stick; it was given a delightful airiness by the sonorous strings led by Irena Herajnová. Creating a contrast to the unresolved tension of the previous Todtenfeier as Mahler intended, there were further idyllic glimpses into the past life of our hero. A wallowing contentment among the Czech Philharmonic players infectiously penetrated the auditorium, culminating in the fluffiest of finishes from the pizzicato strings and the two harps.

The importance of the string section was underlined in the third movement, In ruhig fliessender Bewegung (with quietly flowing movement) yet the carefree attitude of youth had developed one of uncertainty and disenchantment. Based upon the song ‘St Antony and the Fishes’ its poetic makeup was peppered with cymbal crashes, piccolo squeaks and woodwind palpitations, together with a heroic reminder to the Titan of Symphony No 1.

Jana Hrochová Wallingerová instilled the necessary prayer-like atmosphere to the ‘Urlicht’ (Primal Light) a song from Des Knaben Wunderhorn; her opening O Röschen Rot! (O little red rose) was simply and sincerely stated, yet conveying vulnerability as befits man returning to God. While the attentive auditorium held their breath for the first four lines, the solo was given some heavenly oboe accompaniment. Then as the pace quickened with Da kam ich auf einen breiten Weg (There came I upon a broad path) it was the turn of leader Herajnová to add a luxurious lustre to the mezzo voice.

Judgement Day arrived with an almighty orchestral amalgam of sound for the fifth movement, In tempo des Scherzos – Langsam: Mysterioso. After the fade, expertly engineered by Bělohlávek, the first call from the off-stage horn was heard. A wonderful kaleidoscope of instrumental colour and texture from the orchestral ensemble followed, creating a feeling being in limbo. The dead were summoned with an amazing crescendo from the seven-strong percussion section, cut off with pinpoint precision. The return of the ‘March’ theme produced some fantastic ‘surround’ sound, superbly galvanised by Bělohlávek. The far-off brass, both left and right, plus fluidic tremolo from flute and piccolo introduced the hushed CBSO Chorus; initially seated as is their want, they delivered an intensity to Klopstock’s Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n (Rise again, yes, rise again) – a hair-tingling moment. Again the combined sound as Sarah Fox joined choir and orchestra was admirably balanced by Bělohlávek. As the drama of the resurrection was played out to Mahler’s additional text, Wallingerová’s O glaube, mein Herz, O glaube (O believe, my heart, O believe) was passionately rendered and Fox’s nicht bright and clear. Their two voices blended well for the duet O Schmerz (O pain) convincing in their conquest over death. Rising to sing Sterben werd’ ich (I shall die) – who could sing this mighty statement sitting down? – the full complement of performers glorified this ‘Resurrection’ in uplifting fashion.”

Elgar’s Cello Concerto


Thursday 23rd April 2015 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor
Alban Gerhardt  cello

Elgar: Cockaigne 15′
Elgar: Cello Concerto 26′
Listen on Spotify

Bridge: Lament for strings 5′
Tippett: Symphony No.2 35′

Alban Gerhardt’s encore – Bach – Prelude Cello Suite in D

“Stout and steaky” was how Elgar described his Cockaigne overture – and this uproarious portrait of Edwardian London is a far cry from the heartbreak and poetry of his famous Cello Concerto, written in the aftermath of the Great War. Edward Gardner joins Alban Gerhardt to dig deep into this very British masterpiece – and then offers a joyous cure for melancholy: the “abounding, generous, exuberant beauty” of Tippett’s vibrant Second Symphony.


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Alban Gerhardt was soloist in the Cello Concerto, eschewing any of the mannerisms which have crept into traditional readings and instead grasping the work by the notes themselves. The opening tugged itself out of despair and moved towards desolate resignation, and, for all the rubato empathetically matched by Gardner’s orchestra, there was always an underlying sense of pulse and seamless flow.

Gerhardt revealed plenty of intricate detail along this sad journey of introspection, aggressive pizzicati railing against the music’s sense of loss, and indeed intensifying emotional links with Elgar’s Violin Concerto.

The spirit of Elgar’s Sospiri hovered over Frank Bridge’s Lament for Strings which opened the second half, wispy string solos hovering over the music’s deep sense of grief. The BBC were broadcasting this live, and I hope this miniature will be preserved on CD.

As certainly should be the amazing performance of Tippett’s Second Symphony which followed. From its pounding, Stravinskyan opening, upper strings dancing so joyously, through the hieratic gestures of commanding horns, the Midsummer Marriage timbres of piano, harp and visionary solo strings, this was a confident, cogent account, Gardner attuning his orchestra perfectly to Tippett’s idiosyncratic soundworld.”     …



Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…    “Here the burning conviction that the CBSO’s principal guest conductor, Edward Gardner, brought to the score was obvious – he captured Tippett’s tumultuous energy and brightness, a myriad threads drawing the listener into a web of sound. In the Symphony Hall acoustic, the aura of the slow movement, with harp and piano providing the glistening background to the trumpet’s forthright theme, was wonderfully realised: a sense of calm expansiveness countered the surface complexity. With his firm grasp of overall trajectory, Gardner maintained the gradual accretion of nervous tension through the dancing scherzo and into the finale, never losing sight of the magical moments of vibrancy which recall his opera The Midsummer Marriage. The CBSO were on blistering form.

Gardner’s wholly English programme had begun with Elgar’s overture Cockaigne; the conductor treated it like a tone poem, revealing terrific detail and an exuberant warmth reminiscent of Strauss. It was a suitable foil for Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and soloist Alban Gerhardt’s unusually reflective interpretation made the contrast between the two works all the more striking. Gerhardt’s suppleness of tone meant that Elgar’s vulnerability came through clearly, the cello voice occasionally choking slightly as if in despair – no stiff upper lip here, but rather compassion and resignation.”     …

Borodin Quartet

Shostakovich and Beethoven

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package,
SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 and Chamber Music

Tuesday 21st April

Town Hall

Borodin Quartet
Ruben Aharonian violin
Sergei Lomovsky violin
Igor Naidin viola
Vladimir Balshin cello

Shostakovich String Quartet No 11 17’
String Quartet No 9 26’
Beethoven String Quartet Op 59 No 2, Razumovsky 33’

Encore – Shostakovich – Elegy for String Quartet

To describe the Borodin Quartet as one of the greatest names in the history of modern string quartet playing is simply to state a bare fact – and on their 70th Anniversary World Tour, the Borodins are without equal as interpreters of Russian music. Their Shostakovich is self-recommending; but their Beethoven, too, comes with unparalleled insight and authority.

Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Saturday 18th April 2015 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor

Cédric Tiberghien  piano

CBSO Youth Chorus  

Mendelssohn: The Fair Melusina Overture 10′

Mendelssohn: String Symphony No.10 in B minor 12′

Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1 20′ Listen on Spotify

Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – incidental music 45′

Listen on Spotify

Cédric Tiberghien‘s encore – Bach/Siloti – Prelude in B Minor

Edward Gardner’s Mendelssohn symphony cycle was one of the real delights of last season in Birmingham. Now he teams up again with our famous Youth Chorus in its 20th anniversary year in Mendelssohn’s magical homage to Shakespeare: fairies, donkeys and that Wedding March! And we’re delighted to welcome the award-winning Cédric Tiberghien to sprinkle a different kind of magic over Mendelssohn’s sparkling First Piano Concerto.


Review by Christopher Morley (for matinee performance of same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “This week it was the turn of the miraculous Midsummer Night’s Dream incidental music, Gardner and orchestra responding gratefully to its infinite delights. Warm horns, elfin flutes (how did Marie-Christine Zupancic manage to deliver the end of the scherzo without apparently breathing?), James Sibley’s supportive tuba sturdily placed next to the bassoons, the aplomb of Andrew Herbert’s cymbals in the Wedding March, the sheer versatility of the strings, all contributed riches to this amazing score.

As did the young ladies of the CBSO Youth Chorus in that astonishing group’s 20th anniversary year, singing so clearly and articulately after Julian Wilkins’ coaching, and contributing three soloists performing with such poise and confidence, and who really should have been named in the programme.

Earlier we had relished a refreshing Fair Melusine overture and marvelled at the terse Storm and Stress of the B minor String Symphony no.10, neatly phrased and accented under Gardner.

And, above all, a bustling account of the remarkable First Piano Concerto from Cedric Tiberghien, his busy pianism encompassing both stormy rumblings and sweet domesticism,”     …