Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday 23rd September, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Featuring

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Programme

  • Sibelius Finlandia, 8′
  • Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3, 44′
  • Nielsen Symphony No. 4 (Inextinguishable), 36′

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Simon Trpčeski’s encore with Eduardo Vassallo –

Rachmaninov Cello Sonato – Third Movement

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“Music is life,” declared Carl Nielsen, “and like it, inextinguishable.” And from volcanic opening to final life-and-death battle, Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony is one of those pieces that you just have to hear live. Birmingham audiences need no introduction to the fabulous Simon Trpčeski, in the grandest of romantic piano concertos, but this should be a powerful debut for conductor Cristian Măcelaru.

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Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “Rachmaninoff once wrote that he conceived the first theme of the Third Concerto as something to be sung by the piano, and that’s exactly how it came across. It helped, of course, that Simon Trpčeski was the soloist. Trpčeski’s artistry is ripening gloriously: the energy, the clarity of touch and brilliance of articulation are as electrifying as ever, but his youthful flamboyance has evolved into a masterly calm and assurance at the keyboard. No histrionics here: cool as iced vodka, Trpčeski at one point reached casually into his pocket, unfolded a handkerchief and dabbed at his brow while the tutti swept by on all sides.

Meanwhile Măcelaru drew seldom-heard colours from the orchestral part: a distant glint of Russian nationalist jewellery in the finale’s col legno passage; and meltingly soft horns in the transition out of the first movement’s epic cadenza – which drew from Trpčeski, in turn, an exquisite tenderness of tone. I’ve heard more spectacular performances of this concerto, but rarely a more musical one.

Eduardo VassalloFor an encore, Trpčeski beckoned to the CBSO’s principal cello Eduardo Vassallo (pictured left by Upstream Photography) , and together they played the gentle third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata. Trpčeski always takes care over his encores (on one occasion assembling an impromptu Macedonian folk band), but this felt particularly intimate. Its appropriateness, and Trpčeski’s eagerness to share his applause, spoke volumes for his priorities as both artist and human being. 

Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony looked on paper like a rather more severe test for Măcelaru – not because in this anniversary year, we’ve heard it too many times (as if!), but because the CBSO has a Nielsen tradition dating back through Oramo and Rattle to Harold Gray’s cycle (the UK’s first) in the 1960s. All the more impressive, then, that he managed to say something distinctive about the piece from the very outset – and without any overt point-making or micromanagement.”     …

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Review by David Fanning, Telegraph:

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…     “Trpčeski is one of the most bankable assets for the big concerto repertoire. His first movement cadenza was rock-solid, his scherzando episode in the slow movement scintillating in its clarity, and his entire finale a demonstration-quality display of pianistic fireworks. Through all this Măcelaru steered the accompaniment with close attention to balance and a near-telepathic sense of ensemble.

If there were still a few throwaway phrases from Trpčeski, and even some near-crossing of the line into jazzy nonchalance, those things were amply compensated for by the sweep and authority of his playing. His encore – a dreamy account of the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata with the CBSO’s Eduardo Vassallo – was an inspired initiative.

The second half was given over to Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony – The Inextinguishable. This may be the Dane’s best-known work, and the most direct in its impact thanks to its timpani duels in the finale. But it covers an enormous amount of ground in its 35 minutes, and can feel episodic unless the conductor keeps a firm grip on the structure.

Never tempted to over-react to passages of violent disruption, or, at the other extreme, to exaggerate the score’s repeated requests for calm, Măcelaru placed the climaxes with unerring instinct and led into and away from them with consummate skill.”     …

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Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

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…     “The central focus of the evening was not the post-interval symphony, but the first-half concerto. Simon Trpčeski walked out onto the stage with an air of supreme confidence. It was clear before a single note was played that he was here to enjoy himself, and through his composure he forged a connection with the audience that relaxed the hall even while he adjusted his stool. Sympathetically supported by the orchestra, his first notes teased the ear, hinting the theme, seducing the audience to fully engage with the music. Rachmaninov is famous for his long flowing lyrical lines and they require some deep interpretation to make them come off. As a virtuoso pianist himself, he was renowned for the exceptional technical demands of his compositions. Trpčeski was equal to both the musicality and the technique required, his fingers whirling, hammering, tickling, skipping and skating over the keyboard at his whim. The CBSO accompanied with some lush romantic strings. There were moments, however, where I felt they slightly overpowered the soloist. Nonetheless, I was able to immerse myself in the sheer joyous drama of the piece, so well played by Trpčeski, and by the conclusion I was quite elated.

Indeed, Trpčeski seemed to have anticipated the effect he had had on the audience and followed up with an unprogrammed but no-so-impromptu musical treat in a recital of Rachmaninov’s Sonata for Cello and Piano (the third movement). Ably rising to the challenge of playing alongside Trpčeski was CBSO principal cellist Eduardo Vassallo. The playing was delightful and serene, providing calm after the drama of the concerto that was just right for leading into the interval.    […]

[…]      Reflecting afterwards on the concert I could not help but think about the differences in this generation. Măcelaru clearly understood all three in real depth and was able to bring something new and insightful to all of them, particularly the Nielsen symphony. But the lasting memory of the night for me will be the golden touch of pianist Simon Trpčeski in what was a truly tremendous display of virtuosic artistry.”

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Review by Rebecca Franks, Times (££)

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…     “Macelaru was not a showy presence but assured, steady and thoughtful, capable of letting the music breathe and tell its own story. His Sibelius Finlandia opened with a heavy tread, but was confidently steered to its triumphant end. And if Nielsen’s The Inextinguishable lacked that final crackle of electricity, it was still bold and compelling.

Each section of the CBSO gleamed: the strings meticulous and intense, with particularly gutsy violas, the wind sensitive and the brass glorious. And in the final movement, the duelling timpanists were wonderfully exhilarating – surely the embodiment of what Nielsen wanted this music to express, “the Elemental Will of Life”.

 

A to Z of the CBSO

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Saturday 19th September, 7.00pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Featuring

  • Vivaldi Four Seasons (excerpt)
  • Zimmer Pirates of the Carribean
  • Williams – Star Wars = encore

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Put 90 top-flight musicians on one stage, and there’s no limit to what they can do. Three centuries in the making, the symphony orchestra is still the ultimate piece of music technology: at home in the concert hall or the movie studio, and capable of summoning up over 300 years of music in breathtaking live sound. Tonight, Michael Seal and the full CBSO walk you through an A to Z of the orchestra: with music ranging from Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine to Hans Zimmer’s Pirates of the Caribbean!

If you’re not sure where to begin with the CBSO, come along for just a tenner to find out more. And if you’re a regular – why not bring a friend to introduce them?

Royal Danish Orchestra perform Nielsen

BICS 2015/16 – Royal Danish Orchestra perform Nielsen

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 Concert Package,

SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 and Opera highlights

Wednesday 16th September

Symphony Hall

Royal Danish Orchestra
Michael Boder conductor
Magdalena Anna Hoffman soprano

Per Nørgård Iris 12’
Schoenberg Erwartung Op 17 30’
Nielsen Symphony No 5 Op 50 34’

Royal Danish Orchestra’s encore – Nielsen – Maskarade – Overture

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PLEASE NOTE: Petra Lang is now unable to perform Schönberg’s Erwartung for this event. She has been replaced at short notice by Magdalena Anna Hofmann Bookers will be contacted in due course. 5/8/15 ~ THSH

Carl Nielsen actually played in the Royal Danish Orchestra – so there’s no orchestra in the world with a longer tradition of performing his music.

In this anniversary year, RDO principal conductor Michael Boder brings arguably Nielsen’s finest symphony to Birmingham and opens with the ravishing Iris by Denmark’s pre-eminent living composer.

Praise for Magdalena Anna Hoffman performing Erwartung in April 2015 in Vienna

The monodrama revolving around the nocturnal wanderings of the Woman found its brightly shining voice in Magdalena Anna Hofmann…
Wiener Zeitung

Magdalena Anna Hofmann with her deliciously pleasing soprano voice..
Tiroler Tageszeitung

… Magdalena Anna Hofmann as The Woman with her sensual, majestic soprano voice, able to transmit every imaginable emotional impulse or outburst. Quite simply an experience!
Harald Lacina, Der Neue Merker

Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

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…     “There was a similar intimacy to Schoenberg’s Erwärtung – notwithstanding the dark beauty and lustrous tone of Magdalena Anna Hofmann’s voice, and the controlled tension with which she unfolded Schoenberg’s great psychological drama. The RDO darted and shimmered around her to the manner born: this is where that opera pit experience pays dividends.

And then, at last, Boder let his band off the leash for a volcanic Nielsen Fifth Symphony. Lean, powerful strings, deliciously folksy woodwind and a positively malicious percussion section all came together in an interpretation conceived as one sweeping gesture. Boder let his players play, and the symphony’s desperate last-minute triumph can rarely have sounded so hard won – or so overwhelming. The encore – Nielsen’s Maskarade overture – had the audience yelling with excitement.”     …

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Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “The piece is a natural for an opera orchestra, of course, and Boder and the RDO darted, shimmered and swirled under and around Hofmann’s dark, lustrous voice without a false step. Hofmann herself told Schoenberg and Pappenheim’s horror story with cool control; as the implications of the words flashed across her face, she never forced her tone or descended into melodrama – making her short, sudden bursts of vocal characterisation all the more powerful. A ghoulishly rolled “r” here, a low hint of a snarl there: this performance was both intensely beautiful and unsparingly honest. On the opera stage, it would have been devastating.

Unsparing honesty is very much Carl Nielsen’s line of business too; and with the Fifth Symphony we finally had a chance to hear Boder let his players off the leash. Woozy, overripe bassoons gasped out the opening theme; the percussion launched into their onslaught with raw malice, and the principal clarinettist peacocked shamelessly. No question, the RDO came across as an orchestra with character to spare. But the impression of a super-sized chamber group coalesced here into something more powerful.

No-one would say that the RDO strings have a luxurious sound, but their transparency and sonorous power whipped up a genuinely menacing storm in the first of the second movement’s great fugal episodes. Put simply, they sounded like they meant it. All this, while Boder maintained his undemonstrative beat: letting his players play, and trusting them to understand where he was taking them – in this case, through a symphonic struggle which found resolution only at the last possible moment: almost at the very last note. The stakes can rarely have felt higher, and there was a slightly hysterical, off-the-hook edge to the encore (an uproariously OTT Nielsen Maskarade overture). In an uncompromising programme, perhaps Boder and the RDO’s greatest achievement was making the 150-year old Carl Nielsen seem the most dangerous man in the room.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

With origins that can be traced back to the middle of the 15th century, the Royal Danish Orchestra can claim to be the world’s oldest orchestra. Nowadays it divides its time between concert hall and opera house, and in both those roles this year it has been marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Carl Nielsen, who was a second violinist in the orchestra for 16 years. A Nielsen symphony was inevitably part of the programme it brought to Birmingham – the Fifth, played under its principal conductor Michael Boder.

Anniversary years apart, we don’t hear Nielsen symphonies often enough in the UK to have a real sense of a performing tradition about them, and it was fascinating to hear the Fifth played by an orchestra for whom the work is core repertoire. Boder emphasised the music’s extremes rather less than some conductors – the side drum’s interventions towards the end of the first movement seemed less anarchic; the fugal writing of the second less manic – and the work nudged closer to the 19th-century symphonic mainstream than usual, and seemed a more natural development of Nielsen’s earlier Brahmsian style.”     …

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Review by Alexander Campbell, ClassicalSource:

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“The Royal Danish Orchestra and its conductor Michael Boder presented this brilliantly planned programme of Schoenberg’s nervy monodrama Erwartung sandwiched by two works by Danish composers. With its eerie opening, including flutter-tongued woodwinds, Per Nørgård’s Iris set the tone perfectly, music that is initially unsettled until gradually developing a pulsing quality that ushers in other instruments, a prominent, rather elegiac clarinet flourish proving to be the core of the work. The volume increases until an aggressive burst from the brass and the music fades away in an unresolved way. With some fantastic playing, this thoroughly vivid performance suggested that Iris deserves to be heard more often.

Magdalena Anna Hofmann
Photograph: www.sorekartists.com

Following on the theme of uncertainty, next was Schoenberg’s 30-minute extravaganza for soprano and orchestra, Erwartung (Expectation). Magdalena Anna Hofmann, singing from memory, revealed a strong and characterful voice with a rich middle register allied to a rather metallic top range, which suited the character’s fluctuating moods and transient thoughts of warmth, jealousy, anxiety, resolve and deep despair. Her performance was internalised allowing one to focus on the text (a shame there were no surtitles). Hofmann has excellent diction however – a real plus! Thanks to Boder’s sympathetic conducting, the orchestra provided washes of sound without overwhelming the singer. Erwartung is an unsettling piece and best experienced live – and here exerted its curious magic.”     …

Sir Simon Rattle conducts The Dream of Gerontius

BICS 2015/16

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 Concert Package,
SoundBite and Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16

Tuesday 8th September

Symphony Hall

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle conductor
Magdalena Kožená mezzo-soprano
Toby Spence tenor
Roderick Williams baritone
BBC Proms Youth Choir

Elgar The Dream of Gerontius 100’

Sir Simon Rattle returns to the hall he was so instrumental in the creation of, with one of the world’s greatest orchestras, three world-class soloists, and a massed choir drawn from the entire UK.

The work? Elgar’s supreme choral masterpiece, The Dream of Gerontius. It’s been performed many times in Birmingham since its premiere here in 1900 – but never quite like this.

Self-recommending.

At the bottom of his completed Gerontius manuscript, Elgar scribbled a few lines of Ruskin, including the words, ‘this is the best of me.’ Few would argue with him – this extraordinary oratorio, first premiered in Birmingham in 1900, is arguably Elgar’s finest work, and with former CBSO conductor Sir Simon Rattle at the helm, his great masterpiece really is ‘coming home.’

BBC Music Magazine Editor | Oliver Condy

Choir, Choir boxes and Stalls front four rows not available.
We are very grateful to Mrs Julian Blackwell for her generous support of this concert.

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

“It is always fascinating to hear great European orchestras play Elgar. Twenty-five years ago, Simon Rattle performed and recorded The Dream of Gerontius in Birmingham with his then orchestra, the CBSO. Now returning to the city and the work, he had the tonal resources of the Vienna Philharmonic at his disposal, and certainly made full use of them – encouraging the richest, dark string tone in the prelude to the first part of the oratorio, and allowing the brass to exert a wonderfully controlled authority in the climaxes.

That soundworld provided the foundation for a performance of persuasive dramatic power and sometimes enormous intensity. Rattle nowadays has a tendency to mould musical paragraphs in a slightly self-conscious, expressive way, but there wasn’t too much evidence of that here. Toby Spence was the Gerontius, and though his voice is not that of a heldentenor, his musicality and suave, even tone were more than ample compensation; only his outburst at Sanctus Fortis could have done with a bit more urgency and heft. Roderick Williams was the Priest and the Angel of the Agony, and added a dark edge to his normally honey-light baritone without losing any of his attention to verbal detail, or his perfect balance of every phrase.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The Dream of Gerontius is a work which lives and breathes through its orchestral fabric, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra did its textures and timbres proud. What a difference various conductors make: I have heard this august orchestra sound dire under certain carvers, but Simon Rattle here encouraged the players to breathe life into this amazing score, realising that there are not just Wagnerian undercurrents to tickle their fancy but also so many other genuine depths of utterance. Particular praise to the lower strings for authority and presence.

Orchestrally this was a triumph, and almost so chorally, too. The fresh voices of the BBC Proms Youth Choir under the expert tutelage of Simon Halsey sounded wonderfully innocent as Angelicals, but were too many, and perhaps too unspoilt, to spit out the venom of the Demons’ Chorus with any harsh snarlings in the perfectly-judged acoustic of Symphony Hall. Things might be better in the vast reaches of the Royal Albert Hall when this performance is repeated at the BBC Proms on Friday.”     …