Beethoven’s Eroica

Wednesday 2nd December, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Rimsky-Korsakov  Capriccio espagnol, 15′
  • Scriabin  Piano Concerto, 28′
  • Beethoven  Symphony No. 3 (Eroica), 47′


Yevgeny Sudbin’s encore – Scriabin Mazurka Op 25 No 3

Available on BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert – here – for 29 days

With two mighty chords, Ludwig van Beethoven launched a musical insurrection. There’s still nothing in all of music to match the drama of Beethoven’s revolutionary Eroica symphony, and CBSO associate conductor Michael Seal conducts it with absolute commitment and unstoppable energy. Expect some serious voltage; an explosive contrast to Scriabin’s deliriously romantic early masterpiece – the greatest concerto Rachmaninov never wrote? – and Rimsky Korsakov’s all-glittering, all-dancing Capriccio espagnol.

Support the CBSO’s Be Uplifted A Festive Appeal supporting youth and community singing

Michael Seal on Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin and Beethoven


Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “Throughout, Seal’s reading followed through on the subversive logic of that headlong opening; paragraphs of Bruckner-like spaciousness and grandeur were punctuated, confronted and swung around by those climactic passages of violent release. This wasn’t the roughest “Eroica” you’ll hear – or for that matter the smoothest – but it was intelligent, articulate and on its own terms powerfully convincing.

Seal had opened the concert with a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol – one of those supposedly hackneyed popular classics that you actually never seem to hear any more. Rimsky said that in the Capriccio orchestral colour is the musical substance, and Seal responded by simply playing the socks off it. Rhythms were crisp, colours iridescent, and amidst a parade of exuberantly characterised solos, Oliver Janes’s clarinet and flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic’s fresh, fluid tone stood out. It was gleefully, unapologetically up-front, and the all-rattling, all-jangling final Alborada brought cheers from the audience. There’s life in this warhorse yet.

Yevgeny Sudbin

Scriabin’s solitary Piano Concerto, meanwhile, continues to hover on the fringes of the repertoire, with most of its (fairly rare) champions treating it either as supercharged Chopin or half-baked Rachmaninov. Not Yevgeny Sudbin (pictured above). Seal went for clarity rather than poetry in the opening bars, and it soon became clear that this was precisely Sudbin’s own approach. Scriabin’s too: what we usually hear as a perfumed dream of a first movement is actually marked Allegro.” …


Review by Hedy Mühleck, BachTrack:

Click here for full review (for matinee of same programme)

Cymbals crashed, tambourines rattled, the triangle threw a sprinkling of silver over the orchestral clatter that opens Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol, and the CBSO’s Spanish picture was one full of red and earthen colours, varied textures and well directed dynamic developments. The musicians gave it transparency where needed and opened the windows to let in sound scraps of travelling folk in the third movement violin solo, aptly played gypsy-style with scratching attack and quick, strong vibrato.

While the various solo passages for the violin still hint at the composer’s initial plan for the piece to be set for violin and orchestra, he later abandoned this in favour of a compositional outline that allows all groups of the orchestra to display their art. And they shone, from Oliver Janes’ lively clarinet to Marie-Christine Zupancic’s bubbling flute. The orchestra seemed to burst with energy, expressed with softer articulation in the woodwinds, proud brass and ever-precise percussion, culminating in wild, whirling abandon – a magnificent noise!

How different a picture Scriabin’s Piano Concerto painted after this exuberance of sunshine and joy. “No one was more famous during their lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after death,” writes Scriabin’s biographer, and there is at least some truth to it as his works still seem to be programmed fairly infrequently – unjustifiedly so! Just listen to his wonderfully emotional piano concerto for a few minutes. It is a work awash with Chopinesque sentiment and lush orchestral passages that often threaten to smother the piano’s expressive chord statements in the first movement.

Yevgeny Sudbin often surrendered to the orchestra’s forces, but then again wound his way out in intricate tracery, tender, round articulation and a brilliant tone without acidity. While one would often have wished to hear more of him and just a little bit less orchestral sweep, his playing mirrored the great influence Chopin had on Scriabin’s early works, not just in the fleeting arpeggios, but also the mazurka with alternating tender, dreamy passages and a more energetic, resolute reply that, heard just one, will not leave your head for weeks.

Sudbin played with relaxed concentration, using his fingers rather than the entire arm, as if he was playing Chopin’s very own 19th century Pleyel. His strokes were very controlled and rounded, almost all emphasis came from the wrists which otherwise breathed along with the phrases. There were no great gestures, no mannerisms, just a very honest, solemn and modest performance that made for my personal highlight that afternoon.”   …



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