Winners of the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition

BICS 2015/16 –

Valery Gergiev conducts the Winners of the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition

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

Wednesday 28th October

Symphony Hall

Mariinsky Orchestra
Valery Gergiev conductor
Lucas Debargue piano
Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar baritone
Clara-Jumi Kang violin
George Li piano
Yulia Matochkina mezzo soprano
Alexander Ramm cello

Debussy Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune 10’
Tchaikovsky Variations on a Roccoco Theme 18’
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor 28’
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 (2nd Movement)
Verdi Overture to La forza del Destino 8’
Tchaikovsky Joan’s aria from Maid of Orleans 7’
Tchaikovsky Yeletsky’s aria from Queen of Spades 6’
Liszt Piano Concerto No 1 in E flat major 19’

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Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra are bywords for energy, passion and the kind of red-blooded, life-or-death commitment that only Russian artists can deliver. And in Tchaikovsky’s anniversary year, the Competition named after him is still probably the world’s most prestigious music contest.

XV International Tchaikovsky Competition winners
The six winners that will be performing were announced in July 2015 from each of the following categories: piano, violin, cello, male voice, female voice and are as follows:

Exclusive:The artist Norman Perryman, whose paintings of conductors and soloists (including Valery Gergiev) are displayed throughout Symphony Hall, has a new book, which is currently on sale at the Symphony Hall shop. Norman will be signing copies as well as prints from the shop before and after this concert. For more on this click here.

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Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

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…     “French pianist Lucas Debargue only managed 4th prize, but seized everyone’s attention at the competition, and his sensational performance here of Scarbo from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit showed why. He portrayed the sinister apparitions of the magic dwarf Scarbo with a fevered intensity that made one’s skin prickle.

Just as impressive in a different way was Clara-Jumi Kang, a German violinist of Korean parentage. Like Debargue she won only 4th prize, a decision which seems even more mystifying in the light of her performance last night of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. To capture this work’s impetuous energy and undercurrent of sadness, all within a tone of relaxed seraphic grace is a feat very few violinists can manage, but she is certainly one of them.

To see the final rounds of this year’s Tchaikovsky Competition, visit tch15.medici.tv/en

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Stephen Hough in Recital

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

Monday 26th October, 2015

Symphony Hall

Stephen Hough piano

Schubert Sonata in A minor D784 22’
Franck Prelude, Chorale and Fugue 22’
Debussy Estampes 13’
Liszt Valse Oubliées Nos 1 and 2 3’ & 6’
Transcendental Etude No 11 (harmonies du soir) 10’
Transcendental Etude No 10 5’

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Stephen Hough is a phenomenon: a pianist of astonishing technical skill with the ability to find profundity in even the flashiest of keyboard fireworks. Tonight he traces the darkness-to-light journeys of three great pianist-composers, and gives a recital that explores every side of his artistic personality: thinker, creator and consummate virtuoso.

Brahms’ German Requiem

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 22nd October, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25, K.503, 30′
  • Brahms A German Requiem, 70′

Francesco Piemontesi’s encore –
Unfortunately, Susan Gritton has had to withdraw from the these concerts due to illness. We are grateful to Eleanor Dennis for taking her place at very short notice.
“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted”. Brahms didn’t believe in God, but he did believe in love, and as he grappled with personal tragedy he created a Requiem intended to comfort those left behind. Andrew Manze conducts our acclaimed Chorus in this most tender of all great choral works, while Francesco Piemontesi rejoices in the sunlight of one of Mozart’s noblest concertos.
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Q&A with Francesco Piemontesi in the Guardian “Facing the Music“.

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Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

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…     “Although the Requiem is some seventy minutes long, there was not a moment when I was not fully engrossed. Beginning with some gorgeously resonant bowing from the basses and cellos, Manze created a tension in the acoustic that he shaped, moulded, folded and manipulated perfectly, remaining undaunted by the magnitude of the work nor by the 180 strong assembly of singers and instrumentalist facing him. Indeed, it was remarkable just how much they trusted him, and he held them entirely in the palms of his hands as he coaxed delicate whispers in pianissimo and sucked out the breath from their diaphragms in majestic and unrestrained fortissimo.

The CBSO Chorus were at their very best. I have seen them a number of times and hold them in the highest regard, but in this piece and under Manze’s baton, they excelled themselves. Each section held its own and the distinction between the alto and soprano voices was especially clear. Yet this was not a concert of an orchestra supporting a chorus, or vice versa, but of two ensembles being played as one. At no point were any voices drowned out by the instruments, and each section played in complete sympathy with the others. The timpani (played by Antoine Siguré) was perfectly weighted in the piano passages and thunderous in crescendo, exactly as it should be. The principal flautist (Veronika Klírová) was making some wonderful sweet lyrical songs from her part, and played particularly beautifully in the final few bars of the fifth movement.

The two principal voices of the requiem, a baritone and a soprano, were provided by Mark Stone and Eleanor Dennis respectively. Stone performed admirably, his lower register seemingly sharing some of the same resonance as the bowed basses and cellos in the opening bars of the first and second movements. His diction was excellent and he projected well, making full use of the acoustics in the hall. Dennis was a last minute substitution for soprano Susan Gritton, unfortunately unable to perform due to illness. Dennis sang the part with quite a heavy vibrato which suited the solemn and melancholic mood, and her performance of the fifth movement was one of the highlights of the evening.”     …

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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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Although the text Brahms employs for his Ein deutsches Requiem is taken from the Old and New Testaments (plus two verses of the Apocrypha) it makes no reference to Christianity as such. This was intentional, giving the work universal rather than national or sectarian appeal. Indeed, after its premiere in 1869, the composer pointed out that he might well have omitted ‘German’ from the title and substituted ‘Human’. And this performance of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Andrew Manze on 22nd Oct 2015 was a human one, reflecting the highs and lows of life.

The piece was inspired while Brahms was mourning the loss of his mother and the first movement Selig sind, die da Leid tragen (Blessed are they that mourn) very much conveyed a feeling of bereavement. The reiterations of Selig sind from the CBSO Chorus were truly blessed; their variations of the Beatitude couplet offering both soothing sympathy and heavenly solace, emotions smoothly aided at times by the oboe of Rainer Gibbons. It was a superb opener: the German text coming across well whether the voices were in unison, the repeated Getröstet (comfort), or in sequence, Die mit Tränen (with tears). The soaring sopranos on denn sie sollen (for they shall) were inspirational. Manze added a marschemässig to the continuing langsam tempo for the second movement Denn alles Fleisch (For all flesh), Antoine Siguré solidly beating out the rhythm. The music drove forward at funereal pace to the texts of Peter and James, before liltingly celebrating the ‘fruits of the earth’.

After the A Section reprise, Manze strikingly burst forth with a triumphant Aber des Herrn Wort (But the Word of the Lord). Mark Stone was imposing enough as the baritone soloist in the next section Herr, lehre doch mich (Lord make me know) although I thought his words from Isaiah more pleading that prayerful. The sopranos of the CBSO chorus led the way in the popular fourth movement Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (How amiable are thy tabernacles). Birmingham is blessed with a richly acclaimed choir, and they once again stole the show on 22nd Oct 2015 with this movement; with Director Simon Halsey seemingly taking a back seat, it was Matthew Hamilton of the Hallé who was credited as Chorus Master, proving he had done his homework well.”     …

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

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…     “But it’s a hard sing – though you wouldn’t have thought so listening to the effortless, gold plated CBSO Chorus last Thursday – and, if not handled properly by a sympathetic conductor, can be exhausting to sit through. On this occasion, however, it was not.

From the outset a wonderfully hushed opening chorus showed how alert Andrew Manze is to tone and structure which, as the work progressed, acquired an almost symphonic dimension. Admittedly, he couldn’t do much about the contrived conclusion to ‘Herr, lehre doch mich’ (Mark Strong the robustly articulated soloist) or the cloying sweetness of ‘Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen’ (a waltz in all but name, clearly enjoyed by the choir).

And ‘Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt’, undoubtedly the most cogently wrought of its seven movements, was contoured superbly well by Manze, with clenched-fist energy at the climax and a thrilling concluding panegyric.”     …

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig perform Strauss

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

Monday 19th October

Symphony Hall

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Riccardo Chailly Gewandhauskapellmeister
Maria João Pires piano

Richard Strauss Don Juan 17’
Mozart Piano Concerto No 27 in B flat 29’
Richard Strauss Ein Heldenleben 45’

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Few orchestral showpieces open as thrillingly as Strauss’s Don Juan – and fewer still match the vaulting ambition of Ein Heldenleben. Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig celebrate a rare visit to Birmingham with Richard Strauss at his most extrovert.

As the soloist in Mozart’s 27th Piano Concerto, Maria João Pires triumphs amidst Strauss’s soaring orchestral peaks.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The orchestra, now huge for these tone-poems, played with a biting attack, scrupulous accentuation (the opening of Ein Heldenleben a prime example), and a relish for the instrumental detail with which the composer peppered his textures. Special praise for concertmaster Frank-Michael Erben, his tiny solos in Don Juan sweet-toned, and his huge ones in Ein Heldenleben equally so, despite the often vicious ferocity of Strauss’s writing in these depictions of his shrewish wife.

Chailly balanced the sonorities with a natural authority, an almost fatherly concern for his charges, and it was heartwarming to witness the awareness between the strings sections and the overall intelligence and musicality of this band of professors (many of them tutors at the Mendelssohn-founded Leipzig Conservatoire).

Chailly will be leaving this orchestra in the hands of Andris Nelsons next year. It is good to know that this much-loved Birmingham ex-pat will be back at the helm of a European orchestra equal with the CBSO in repute and quality — though not privileged with the acoustic of Symphony Hall, which still never ceases to amaze me after nearly a quarter of a century.”

*****

Star Wars

Friday 16th October, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Featuring

Programme

  • Newman – 20th Century Fox Fanfare
  • Williams – Star Wars Theme
  • Williams – Episode 1: The Phantom Menace Flag Parade
  • Williams – Anakin’s Theme
  • Williams – Adventures of Jar-Jar Binks
  • Williams – Duel of the Fates
  • Williams – Episode 2: Attack of the Clones Across the Stars
  • Williams – Yoda’s Theme
  • Williams – The Imperial March
  • Williams – Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith Battle of the Heroes
  • Williams – Episode 4: A New Hope Here They Come!
  • Williams – The Cantina Band
  • Williams – Princess Leia’s Theme
  • Williams – Throne Room
  • Williams – Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back Asteroid Field
  • Williams – Episode 6; Return of the Jedi Luke and Leia’s Theme
  • Williams – Parade of the Ewoks
  • Williams – The Forest Battle
  • Encore Williams – The Imperial March

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… John Williams lifted his baton and cued one of the greatest scores in movie history. As the world awaits the launch of Episode VII, conductor Michael Seal, the CBSO and voice actor Marc Silk, who can be heard in the Phantom Menace film, present John Williams’ music from all six Star Wars films, from A New Hope to Revenge of the Sith. The Force is strong with this one!

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Review by Justine Halifax, Birmingham Mail:

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“Breathtaking and spectacular are the only worthy words I can use to sum up a concert staged at the Symphony Hall in honour of the music of the incredible Star Wars series.

CBSO 2015-16 Friday Night Classics: Star Wars proved not only to be an audible treat, one of which the great maestro John Williams himself would be proud of, but a visual delight, too.

With a welcome in the foyer for the arriving audience from both a storm trooper and a sandman, the tone of this memorable evening was set before we’d taken our seats.

This fantastic two-hour concert, performed to a packed hall of both young and old Star Wars’ fans, saw the amazing City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra join forces with the awesome CBSO Chorus.     […]

[…] For me the most spectacular pieces were those that featured the Chorus, including a breathtaking rendition of the Duel of Fates from Episode 1.”     …

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Review by Paul Marston, BehindTheArras:

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IT’s not unusual to hear people leaving City of Birmingham Symphony Hall Concerts saying ‘that was out of this world’.

But this performance went even further, it was out of the universe for Star Wars fans who packed the Symphony Hall to enjoy the dramatic music of the legendary John Williams which adds so much to the thrilling movies.

Many youngsters were there with their parents for the latest Friday Night Classics,  and one man admitted to going down the aisle to Star Wars music….and in full costume.

Williams, a big fan of British orchestras, sent a personal message from Los Angeles thanking the orchestra and conductor Michael Seal for performing so much of his music – written to ‘smack you in the eye’ – and regretting that he couldn’t be in the Symphony Hall for the event.”     …

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Review by Selwyn Knight, TheReviewsHub:

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…     “As the films were originally released through 20th Century Fox, there can be no other way to open than with the 20th Century Fox Fanfare, quickly followed by the Star Wars main theme. This is, of course, instantly recognisable to all, whether fans of the franchise or not. It sounds simple hiding a complex structure. The CBSO effortlessly reproduces the sound and changing moods. They are assisted in this, as ever, by the wonderful acoustics of the purpose-built Symphony Hall, an appropriate home for such grandeur.

Our conductor, Michael Seal, conducts energetically, appearing at times to be using his baton to dig the notes out.

It is astonishing to think that, despite some familial resemblances, the music for each Star Wars film is quite different to the others. There are themes – epic brass motifs, flowing strings, moments of introspection, and a vast variety of tuned percussion giving that slightly unsettling otherworldly feel – but each piece has its own personality. That is especially true of the charming and witty The Cantina Band from Episode 4: A New Hope. A cut-down jazz band featuring guitar and drum kit evokes that smoky jazz club atmosphere while still retaining an element of strangeness, causing smiles to propagate around the vast hall.

Supporting the CBSO is the CBSO Chorus, a vast choir of local people who come together under their director, Simon Halsey, to sing symphonic choral music. Their contribution to Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace and to the stirring and martial Battle of the Heroes from Revenge of the Sith that closes the first half is excellent, if a little surprising to some members of the audience seated behind them as they leap to their feet in unison during Duel of the Fates.”     …

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Review by Mark Newbold, StarWars.com:

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…     “Led by conductor Michael Seal, the CBSO started with Alfred Newman’s 20th Century Fox fanfare before launching into the familiar Star Wars theme from A New Hope. Then came one of the many musical surprises of the night as the piece ended not with the A New Hope credits, but with the triumphant end moments of Return of the Jedi. Seal was clearly loving it, encouraging his musicians to take a bow to rapturous applause at every opportunity. His enthusiasm was infectious, feeding the music-hungry crowd and leading them into a selection of themes from The Phantom Menace. “The Flag Parade” was presented in a very unfamiliar arrangement before leading into “Anakin’s Theme” and the “Adventures of Jar Jar Binks.” The City of Birmingham Chorus made themselves known, standing to perform the dramatic vocals from “Duel of the Fates.” In a room like this, with a knowledgeable crowd and an orchestra at the top of their game, it was an exhilarating moment.
CBSO Star Wars concert
Attack of the Clones — surely the most underrated of all the Star Wars scores — was next with Across the Stars, and from there we were treated to “Yoda’s Theme” and the “Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back. A perennial crowd-pleaser, “The Imperial March” is certainly the best known Star Wars theme after the “Main Title” itself. Revenge of the Sith was next and once again the CBSO Chorus were used to great effect in “Battle of the Heroes,” sending the audience off to the intermission on a high.”     …

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Dvořák’s Sixth

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 14th October, 2.15pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Mozart Idomeneo – Ballet Music, 10′
  • Nielsen  Violin Concerto, 35′
  • Dvořák  Symphony No. 6, 41′
Pekka Kuusisto’s encore – Aulis Sallinen – Cadenza
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Love Dvořák’s symphony from the New World? Now discover his symphony from the old one! Dvořák’s Sixth is musical sunshine: from pastoral opening to jubilant finish, it’s 45 joyous minutes of folkdances, lullabies and autumn sunsets – perfect for the youthful energy of conductor Nicholas Collon, just as Nielsen’s tuneful Violin Concerto could have been written for our soloist Pekka Kuusisto. Mozart’s Idomeneo ballet launches the evening in majestic style.
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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:
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“Good to hear Dvorak’s sixth symphony, the equal of his last three in all but fame, especially when performed with such a winning mixture of tender lyricism, rhythmic vigour and bravado. With the CBSO brass and Elspeth Dutch’s outstanding horn section in full cry the finale powered away like a ship in full steam down the Vltava.The conductor Nicholas Collon’s pacing of the opening allegro was spot on and while the dynamic scherzo, with its cross-cutting rhythms, was exuberant Collon allowed the wind section to give full play to the trio’s Bohemian melodies.

They impressed again at the opening of the adagio which sounded like one of Mozart’s magical wind serenades.”     …

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Elgar’s First

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday 7th October, 7.30pm

Featuring

Programme

  • Wigglesworth Études-Tableaux, 12′
  • Britten  Our Hunting Fathers, 27′
  • Elgar  Symphony No. 1, 52′
  • Mark Padmore’s encore / extra treat (with Elspeth Dutch and CBSO) – Britten – Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal

When Elgar’s First Symphony was premiered in 1908, the audience simply stood up and cheered. A century on, it’s still one of the most stirring experiences in British music, beginning and ending with what might be the best tune even Elgar ever composed. For Ryan Wigglesworth – a composer himself – it’s an inspiration. His colourful Études- Tableaux complements Britten’s extraordinary zoological song-cycle, sung by a truly great British tenor.

Support the CBSO

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Wigglesworth’s interpretation was sensitive to the music’s many beauties but sometimes cautiously over-respectful. The adagio shimmered handsomely (woodwind lines always a pleasure to hear) but this gorgeous slow music surges with repressed energy and shouldn’t be reduced to near stasis. The finale however crackled with energy, basses menacing, brass louring – a thoroughly satisfying climax. The occasionally sinister nachtmusik of Mahler and Bartok seemed to waft through Wigglesworth’s own colourful and fastidiously scored (and here brilliantly played) Études-Tableaux for orchestra.

The fearsomely high tessitura of the solo part in Britten’s youthful orchestral song cycle Our Hunting Fathers didn’t intimidate tenor Mark Padmore. He attacked with gusto Auden’s knotty poetry which bookends the five songs, relishing the bloodthirsty Dance of Death with its catalogue of hounds and sharply characterizing the mock-religious exorcism of Rats Away!”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “His performance of Elgar’s First Symphony was warmly received, and the orchestra, with all its section principals on duty, played exceptionally well for him. There’s a bold directness about the sound he produces, and the detail he extracts from scores in a faithful acoustic such as Symphony Hall’s. Even if he sometimes fussed, exaggerating ritardandos or adding minute dynamic changes, the thrust of each movement was clear and purposeful, and the return of the main motto theme in the finale’s closing bars as conclusive as it ought to be. 

That ear for detail had been obvious, too, in Our Hunting Fathers, Britten’s astonishingly precocious “symphonic cycle” of 1936, one of his greatest early achievements. Every instrumental strand was tinglingly vivid. Mark Padmore was the immaculate soloist, though occasionally a bit too restrained; there’s more savage irony in the setting of some of the texts than he allowed, though the path he managed to steer though the verbal thickets of Auden’s prologue and epilogue was admirably lucid.”    …

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “Padmore was excellent, always clear and audible in all but the fullest orchestral moments of accompaniment. Most memorable for me was his rendering of “Fie, fie, fie…” in Messalina; a heartbreaking transition from impassioned outcry to almost no sound. The orchestral accompaniment was alert and exciting throughout with Adrian Spillett’ s sardonic xylophone refrain and Amanda Lake’s violin solo particular highlights in the tonally challenging Epilogue.

Trajectory was the name of the game once again in Wigglesworth’s reading of Elgar’s Symphony No 1. This was a performance that knew where it was going: from the forward march of the opening nobilmente (truly both andante and semplice here) theme all the way to it’s triumphant reprise in the piece’s coda. Requiring little recourse to the score, Wigglesworth had the measure of both the sweep and sinews of the “greatest symphony of modern times”. This was a composer demonstrating a deep intellectual understanding of a fellow composer’s construction; every tempo relationship carefully considered and each section paced just right. Yet, there was nothing clinical or detached in Wigglesworth’s interpretation. Climaxes registered with cumulative impact in the epic first movement and tender cello and clarinet solos at its close were touching indeed.

The CBSO’s playing was nothing short of staggering. This is an orchestra with a hell of an Elgar pedigree and I’ve heard them given some very fine performances of his music in the past, but this was something else. The cynic (and conductor) in me expected something in the execution to falter along the way, not least the tricky violin pickup into the final movement allegro given its daring speed and unfussy direction. Surely, the central section of that movement couldn’t be made to sound so poignant without an excessive drop in tempo and, yet, it was. There was no question by the symphony’s close that this was the most remarkable live performance of it I’ve experienced. ”     *****

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Review by Rebecca Franks, Times (££)

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