Nicola Benedetti: Szymanowski

Wednesday 27th January, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Haydn  Symphony No. 92 (Oxford), 28′
  • Szymanowski Violin Concerto No. 2, 20′
  • Brahms  Symphony No. 4, 40′

Nicola Benedetti’s encore – Bach – Sarabande from Partita 2 in D Minor


Brahms said that he wanted his Fifth Symphony to sound like Haydn. He never got that far – because his magnificent Fourth Symphony said all he wanted to say! Lahav Shani brings out all its tragedy and triumph, but only after he’s shown you exactly what Brahms was talking about, in Haydn’s joyous “Oxford” Symphony. Nicola Benedetti, meanwhile, begins our mini-cycle of Szymanowski violin concertos with the ravishing, fantastical Second.Support the CBSO

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Benedetti was here for the first episode in the orchestra’s survey of both Szymanowski Violin Concertos (perversely, here we were hearing the Second; the First comes on February 4, Baiba Skride playing).

Her bright-toned Strad weaved a sweetly melancholic thread, allied to biting bow-work which reinforced the music’s strong similarities to the two violin concertos of Prokofiev. She even managed a squinge of discreet re-tuning during the impressive central cadenza before moving towards the wonderfully exhilarating ending. After this her encore (the Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita) grounded us perfectly.

Shani drew sumptuous sounds from the CBSO, an orchestra well versed in Szymanowski, thanks to the long-term advocacy of Sir Simon Rattle.

We had begun with the music of another Rattle protege, Haydn, no less, and his Symphony no.92. Its nickname “the Oxford” alerts the listener to its many learned winks and nudges, but all the time it fizzes with energy, and charms with smiling melodies.”   …

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Review by Peter Marks, Bachtrack:

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…    “The concerto is scored for a remarkably large orchestra, including five percussionists, a tuba, contrabassoon and orchestral piano. Szymanowski’s use of the latter in his violin concertos is particularly notable as few composers, even in the twentieth century, employed the orchestral piano in their concertos. Whilst the composer’s first concerto tends towards the impressionistic, the second is more assertive. It opens with a grumbling in that orchestral piano in an almost bluesy style. Benedetti adopted a suitably sultry tone in this first movement, managing to be heard even against the fullest orchestral accompaniment.

The movements in the concerto are contiguous but clearly distinct. The first two and last two movements are punctuated by a jaw-dropping cadenza almost entirely consisting of double-stopping. Benedetti traversed this with astonishing assuredness, even calmly tweaking her tuning along the way. The cadenza concludes, startlingly, with a huge crash from the orchestra, which conductor Lahav Shani timed to perfection. The third movement is rather militaristic and Benedetti was visibly enjoying the orchestral mayhem going on around her. She also noticeably engaged with her orchestral colleagues, particularly the leader. Benedetti was in total command of this concerto, as were Shani and the orchestra. ”     …

 

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Serenade to Music

Thursday 21st January, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Grainger  In a Nutshell, 20′
  • Vaughan Williams  Serenade to Music †, 14′
  • Varese  Ionisation, 8′
  • Judith Weir Storm †, 18′
  • Grainger  The Warriors , 20′

Imagine warriors of all times and all lands, gathering in one place to drink and dance; imagine jazz breaks, three pianos, and a super-sized orchestra… and you’re starting to get some idea of Percy Grainger’s jaw-dropping The Warriors. Add Vaughan Williams’ ravishing, Shakespeare-inspired Serenade, 16 brilliant young soloists, a spirited showcase for the CBSO’s world-beating young choruses and a “Gum-Suckers’ March”, and…well, what can we say? You’ve simply got to hear it!

Available on BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert here for a month

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And because of these forces we had a remarkable bonus, Edgard Varese’s Ionisation for 13 percussionists and piano, crisply, precisely directed by Seal, and beautifully phrased and coloured by the players.

By contrast, a tiny instrumental ensemble (including many of the flute family) accompanied the expert CBSO Youth and Children’s Choruses in a revival of Judith Weir’s Storm, keenly imagined and with a lovely serene ending. Under Simon Halsey the youngsters sang with confident projection and brilliant diction, and all from memory, to the delight of the composer, interviewed engagingly onstage, like the two conductors, by presenter Tom Redmond.

The texts came from The Tempest, this performance a contribution to the CBSO’s Shakespeare quatercentenary thread. And particularly heartwarming was the presentation of one of the most beautiful Shakespearean works ever penned, Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.

This setting of the Belmont Scene from Act V of The Merchant of Venice requires 16 solo singers, and for its premiere celebrating Sir Henry Wood’s Golden Jubilee as a conductor in 1938, the composer specified 16 named soloists at the top of the professional tree.

Here Simon Halsey presented 16 students from Conservatoires UK-wide, and what a wonderful sound they created, both in their individual contributions and in their melding together as a choral group.”     …

Schubert and Shostakovich

Saturday 16th January, 7.00pm

Featuring

  • Omer Meir Wellber – Conductor

Programme

  • Schubert – Symphony No. 3, 25′
    Shostakovich – Symphony No. 6, 30′

Shostakovich’s Sixth is a kaleidoscopic half-hour adventure of a Symphony that opens with a brooding, sprawling crescendo – before cartwheeling to its vibrant conclusion through bouyant Allegro and Presto movements. In this two-piece concert without interval, it’s the ideal finale to Schubert’s charming Third Symphony, and the perfect tonic for a surely chilly mid-January evening.

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Make music your New Year’s resolution with the CBSO – book between 15-24 January and receive a 25% discount*

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “It’s a pity, because aurally this was a zestful, detailed, dramatic account of Schubert’s Haydnesque symphony, perhaps investing it with more significance than it deserves, but certainly making a memorable impression.

The Shostakovich was well-characterised right from the richness of its lower-strings opening, building up momentum as the movements unfolded, up to the empty clamour of the finale, crisp and cheeky from the CBSO.

I have two abiding memories of this performance: the despairing desolation of Andrew Lane’s piccolo solos; but also the irritation of so much prancing around from the conductor. And did he really have to go scrambling through the orchestra at the end to congratulate practically everybody? Even Simon Rattle did that only but rarely; but then he had nothing to prove.”

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Scheherazade

Thursday 14th January, 2.15pm

Programme

  • Ravel  Mother Goose Suite, 16′
  • Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 4, 24′
  • Rimsky-Korsakov  Scheherazade, 45′

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess, a cruel king… and a Russian composer. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade is like opening a wonderful book of musical stories: there’s adventure, magic and – of course – love, all told in music of glittering splendour and gorgeous colour. Guest conductor Andrew Gourlay retells the tale today, along with Ravel’s own little book of musical fairytales, and Rachmaninov’s jazziest concerto. So, if you’re sitting comfortably…

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

(for Saturday 16th performance of same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “He and the orchestra were joined by Ukrainian Alexander Romanovsky for Rachmaninov’s elusive Fourth Piano Concerto, a work where everything is stripped to the bone. It’s a piece whose atmospheric gestures would soon be taken up by film-music composers (gorgeously dark lyricism from the CBSO strings), but here Romanovsky concentrated on the music’s remarkable cogency, bringing a strong rhythmic impulse and a mercurial pianism redolent of Rachmaninov himself. His Chopin Nocturne encore was a perfect choice, rich-toned and warmly pedalled.

We ended with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, a composition short in musical content but brilliant in terms of colour and opportunities for display, showing off the skills of so many CBSO soloists under Gourlay’s flexible, empowering direction.

And of course the princess of all of these was concertmaster Zoe Beyers, her narrations eloquent and subtly phrased, poignant in their underlying desperation (Scheherazade is spinning tales to prolong her own life, after all), and all the time neatly dovetailed into her orchestral duties.”     …

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Review by Hedy Mühleck, BachTrack:

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…     “It was also a kiss (on the hand!) that stood at the end the performance of the second piece this afternoon – a superbly played Fourth Piano Concerto by Rachmaninov at the hands of Alexander Romanovsky. The CBSO’s sound immediately had more punch, was more immediate, and set the mood for the piano’s opening chords. Romanovsky spelled those out a bit too obviously, but soon played flowingly, coherently, effortlessly in the highly virtuoso passages, yet retaining a pithy sound. Romanovsky revelled in the jazzy opening of the middle movement as the orchestra revelled in its dreamy three-note-motif as if there was nothing musically more important to say. It was a thing of beauty, as was the third movement, played at breakneck speed, yet utterly focussed and with great accuracy.

What more could there possibly be said about Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade? This is music that paints an image with broad strokes in primary orchestral colours. It is a fascinating piece that makes the listener a first-hand witness to the Sultan’s experience listening to his Sultana’s intricate tales, gracefully spun by the violin. Zoe Beyer’s tone was engaging, tender, with small, quick vibrato, and captured the storyteller to a tee, creating an unobtrusive, calm and quiet presence. It entered into trusted dialogue with the flute while the orchestral waves around Sinbad’s ship rose and rolled covered by spray, and like the programmatic tales, it kept the listener captivated throughout.”     …

Schumann’s Piano Concerto

Sunday 10th January, 2016, 3.00pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Debussy Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, 10′
  • Schumann Piano Concerto, 31′
  • Sibelius  Lemminkäinen Suite, 50′

Beatrice Rana’s encore – Schumann trans. Liszt – Widmung
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We may be in the depths of winter, but these three romantic narratives by composers barely into their thirties should warm the hardest of hearts. Debussy’s faun and Sibelius’s hero are the stuff of legend, their unrequited love expressed in music that is by turns languid, passionate and thrilling. Schumann’s feelings for Clara were only too real, and had been strongly opposed by her father: but once they were finally married, he poured his feelings into this gorgeous concerto. To perform these three youthful masterpieces we are joined by two outstanding young artists: a superb pianist and a conductor who caused quite a stir on her UK debut with the CBSO last summer.
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Has CBSO finally found its next Music Director,
article/ review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post :
Click here for full article
…     “So on the second Sunday in January Mirga reappeared, conducting a programme which put so many skills to the test: phrasing with a flexibility which allowed orchestral soloists to make telling contributions, collaborating with a young pianist in one of the world’s best-known concertos (and one not without its pitfalls), and making sense of the jagged structures and kaleidoscopic colours of a gritty large-scale work.She triumphed spectacularly, to huge audience acclaim (and it was a nice bonus to hear the measured clarity of her speaking voice as she informed us of a change in movement-order), and the players seemed highly enthused, too.It helps that she so obviously enjoys conducting, relishing the partnership she shares with her colleagues. It was charming to see her beaming and silently applauding the delivery of important solos, and to see her beaming with pleasure as every effect came off successfully.”      …
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Review by Richard Bratby, ArtsDesk:
Click here for full review
…     “What Gražinytė-Tyla achieved, then, was all the more remarkable. Her ultra-precise beat and balletic podium manner have attracted unfavourable comment from people who fundamentally misunderstand how an orchestra responds to a conductor – or who simply can’t listen. That Gražinytė-Tyla has a distinctive vision – and the power to realise it – was obvious from the rapturous opening bars of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune in which she coaxed the strings to match both the colour and texture of Marie-Christine Zupancic’s daringly-soft opening flute solo, and went on to generate an unfolding sense of wonder in which even the rests felt like part of the phrasing: hanging, pregnant with expression, in a breathlessly quiet Symphony Hall.
Sibelius’s four Lemminkäinen Legends made good on the Debussy’s promise. Gražinytė-Tyla has a powerful sense of the single culminating point of a large-scale musical structure, and the idea that these four tone-poems add up to a thinly-disguised symphony has rarely felt so convincing, with Gražinytė-Tyla reversing the conventional order of the two central pieces so that Lemminkäinen in Tuonela became a slow, macabre scherzo, and the dying notes of The Swan of Tuonela served as a sort of prelude to the first drumbeats of Lemminkäinen’s Homecoming. Throughout, Gražinytė-Tyla drew out and relished each fantastical detail of Sibelius’s scoring: snare-drum rattling against a pianissimo rustle of violins, the gurgling woodwind laughter of the maidens of Saari, and the impressionistic blur of sound that introduced Rachael Pankhurst’s tender, improvisatory cor anglais solo in The Swan of Tuonela.
And yet the pacing remained taut, the cumulative build-up and release of energy overwhelming – and the players, leaning into their stands and exchanging discreet smiles, seemed energised.”     …
.Review by Hedy Mühleck, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “She allowed complete freedom in the  wide, soft opening flute lines of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune , and moulded the CBSO with elegant movements not unlike those of a dancer. She established an atmosphere of great calm without losing the sense of underlying excited tension and shimmering of heat.

23-year-old pianist Beatrice Rana completed the line-up and seemed ideal casting for Schumann’s only completed piano concerto that had been written for – and championed by – Schumann’s wife Clara. While the opening call to attention and the following lines were slightly blurred by a lot of pedal, her playing was remarkably unobtrusive, her movements minimal and modest, her phrasing clear. Supported by a softer orchestral tone with strong emotional focus, she floated through the first movement with only the briefest instance of rush when an immense distance on the keyboard just could not be travelled safely without use of a small rubato.

She brought out the sweeping upwards lines in the Allegro vivace with a round, full-bodied sound despite distinctly unpretentious playing. It drew all strength of stroke from her fingers and wrists, supported by the forearms; hardly ever did she use the full arm, let alone body for emphasis, gestures remained small, the wrists only lifting slightly to breathe. Minor ensemble issues where the melodic line appears in the orchestra and, in ornamented form, in the piano, were quickly caught and made for a stirring close, complemented by an equally wonderful encore, Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s Widmung.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is a 29-year-old Lithuanian, who is currently assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She conducted the CBSO for the first time last July, and made such an impression with the orchestra and the audience that she was invited back for this specially arranged concert.

It was easy to understand why she has gone down so well in Birmingham. Her platform style is certainly distinctive: Gražinytė-Tyla began with Debussy’s Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune, applying the dabs of orchestral colour with sharp stabs of her baton, and sculpting the larger shapes of the music with sweeping gestures. But for once such balletic poses really did communicate something wonderfully alive and detailed to the players, a performance with fresh, clear textures and an unswerving sense of shape.

In Sibelius’s Lemminkäinen Suite, too, there was that same attention to every morsel of detail, and the same knack of moulding each of the four movements into a convincing dramatic shape, even in the opening Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of Saari, which can seem rather unruly. The last movement was built to a terrific climax, too, after she had favoured the alternative ordering for the middle two movements, with the Swan of Tuonela third in the sequence, though that hardly helps the narrative that underpins Sibelius’s scheme.”     …

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Ms Gražinytė-Tyla reversed the order of the middle two movements, as printed in the programme, so that we heard The Swan of Tuonela third. She may be quite slight of stature but there was no doubting her command in this performance of the Legends. In fact, though the preceding works had shown her in an impressive light I think it was in the Sibelius that she truly came into her own.    

There was conviction and colour aplenty in Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of Saari. The atmosphere of the piece was very well conveyed in an exciting and sometimes powerful performance.  Lemminkäinen in Tuonela is the most dramatic of the four pieces and Ms Gražinytė-Tyla established in the opening bars a high degree of tension which was never lost. I thought this was a gripping performance, especially during the last few minutes, and it seemed to me that both conductor and orchestra displayed a strong understanding of the composer’s sound world. The opening of The Swan of Tuonela was bleak and doleful; Rachel Pankhurst’s cor anglais solos were keening and expressive. The playing of everyone involved in this movement was concentrated and highly controlled. This was eloquent music-making. In Lemminkäinen’s Return his mother has found his slain body and restores him to life, enabling him to ride home in triumph. From the start this performance had terrific drive and energy. The CBSO’s playing was colourful and rhythmically strong, urged on by their highly animated young conductor. Lemminkäinen came home triumphantly.

This was a terrific concert containing three highly contrasted, expertly delivered performances. Musically, each performance was extremely satisfying. On this evidence Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is already a highly accomplished conductor who genuinely has something to say about the music she conducts. It seemed to me that the CBSO responded very positively to her. Who knows how the process of the selection of the CBSO’s new principal conductor will pan out? But whatever the outcome I hope we shall see much more of this exciting young conducting talent in Birmingham. 

 

 

 

Academy of St Martin in the Fields

with Joshua Bell and Steven Isserlis

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

Saturday 9th January

Symphony Hall

Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Joshua Bell violin/direction
Steven Isserlis cello

Dvořák Silent Woods from From the Bohemian Forest Op 68 7’
Beethoven Symphony No 5 31’
Schuman Violin Concerto, mv. II (codetta by Britten)
Brahms Double Concerto 34’

 

The original virtuoso chamber orchestra, with two of the world’s most respected soloists – when Joshua Bell and Steven Isserlis join the Academy of St Martin and the Fields, you’d expect some seriously stylish playing. But from the grandeur of Brahms to Beethoven’s most famous symphony, there’ll be drama too. A stirring programme from some truly exceptional performers.

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Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

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…     “Thankfully the piano stool was absent as the audience returned to their seats for a second half featuring the second movement Langsam of Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor (WoO, codetta by Benjamin Britten), and Johannes Brahms Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor. The first of these two pieces, written immediately before Schumann’s suicide attempt, is rarely performed. Bell did not waste the opportunity to demonstrate the tender romantic lyricism of his playing and he wrought out of his strings a bitter-sweet melancholy befitting of both the piece and his reputation.

The best was yet to come though, as the Brahms concerto featured partnership playing at the very highest level. The orchestra provided a faultless canvas upon which Isserlis drew light and shade beneath Bell’s wonderful detail. Sat centre-stage with his distinctive mop of hair doing its own thing, one could clearly see that Isserlis was joyously living this music with every fibre of his being and his enthusiasm was contagious. The musical understanding the two soloists share was audibly manifest, their phrasing was seamlessly matched, and their cohesive interplay and interpretation will be the lasting memory of the performance.”

 

Henry V

Thursday 7th January, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Strauss  Macbeth, 18′
  • Vaughan Williams  Three Shakespeare Songs, 8′
  • Verdi  Macbeth – ballet music, 12′
  • Walton  Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario (arr. Christopher Palmer), 60′

“O for a Muse of fire…” Shakespeare’s Henry V crammed the Battle of Agincourt into a tiny wooden theatre. Four centuries later, William Walton matched that vision with music that redefined British cinema, and this lavish concert version weaves all the play’s greatest speeches and Walton’s score into a compelling musical drama. Edward Gardner launches our year of Shakespeare celebrations with passionate Shakespearean masterpieces by Verdi and Richard Strauss.

Support the CBSO

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Available on BBC Radio 3 iPlayer here for 28 days

 

Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The CBSO Chorus, prepared by Julian Wilkins, performed Vaughan Williams’ Three Shakespeare Songs and excelled in the charmingly delicate Full Fathom Five.

They ended the concert in full cry with the stirring Deo gratias conclusion to Walton’s music for Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film of Henry V.

Christopher Palmer weaved the film cues, some other Walton filler material and the play’s great speeches into a convincing and moving hour-long Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario.

The narrator Samuel West played the King, the Chorus (and more) switching between swagger and sobriety with ease and delivering a St Crispin’s Day speech that would have made even a pacifist feel like taking up arms.

Gardner elicited playing of equal ardour from the orchestra. Splendid!”

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Review by John Allison, Telegraph:

Click here for full review

As the orchestra closest to Shakespeare country, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra naturally has a role to play in this year’s anniversary celebrations of the Bard. But there is nothing dutiful about its approach to Shakespeare 400: this start of the CBSO’s “Our Shakespeare” season showed it not only getting in ahead of other British bands with its Shakespearean programming, but doing something more interesting than most.

Edward Gardner opened the concert by conducting a great rarity, Richard Strauss’s early tone poem Macbeth. This work’s neglect is not hard to fathom, for it lacks big tunes, but as a study in darkness it is fascinating. Sounding a little as if the midsummer light of Wagner’s Meistersinger had been switched to midwinter, with touches of Tchaikovsky at his gloomiest, this music blows in stormily and seldom lets up. Icy shivers accompany Lady Macbeth’s entry, and the textures run deep. Gardner drew a taut, brilliantly energised performance that showcased the orchestra at its surging best.

Balancing this was the ballet music from Verdi’s Macbeth, an obligatory addition when the composer revised his opera for Paris. Verdi’s sophisticated scoring, evoking supernatural elements, inspired the orchestra to play with colour and bite.”     …

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Review by Sam Chipman, TheReviewsHub:

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…     “Walton’s score was written for the 1944 Henry V film, starring Laurence Olivier – at one of the darkest periods in Britain’s history the film was a propaganda effort commissioned by the government to buoy the national spirit during the onslaught of World War II. From the court in England to Falstaff’s death and the send-off of the troops to the battlefields of France, Walton’s score tells the story vividly, making no attempt to hide in the background, and complements the famous words of Shakespeare. The brass and percussion come into their own during this section of the concert, adding the much needed triumphant feel that rings around the magnificent Symphony Hall, a jubilant performance from all involved. Falstaff’s death features an exquisitely played lower string melody which much resembles a theme from Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and a rustic bassoon melody adds a real English courtly feel. Seasoned Shakespearian actor, Samuel West masterfully weaves his way through Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, a performance of real stature and variation. He is compelling throughout, and his St Crispin’s Day speech is a stand out moment, truly rousing. The CBSO make an enormously full sound, leading to a powerful and climactic end befitting of the evening and Shakespeare’s magic.

“In sweet music is such art…” Shakespeare’s work lends itself incredibly well to the musical world, and the imaginations of those that inspired such musical feats – when the words and the music come together a higher emotional plane is reached.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Under Gardner, the orchestra and its chorus made it a vivid enough experience, though, and there was a nicely judged virtuoso performance from Samuel West as the narrator, who took on a variety of roles, from the Chorus to the king, via Falstaff, Pistol and the Duke of Burgundy.

The concert had begun with another rarely heard work, Macbeth – one of the least known of Richard Strauss’s symphonic poems. It’s a dark, turbulent piece, without too many memorable moments, though Gardner made its fierce climax impressive enough. There was more Macbeth-inspired music in the shape of a taut, rhythmically snappy account of the ballet from Verdi’s opera, while in between came Vaughan Williams’s Three Shakespeare Songs, insubstantial, but a chance for the CBSO Chorus to shine without the orchestra getting in the way.”

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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “The Olivier film of Henry V had started as a piece of propaganda in 1943 and thankfully co-producer Dallas Bower convinced the actor that William Walton was the best man to provide the backing score. This combination, together with the later arrangement by Christopher Palmer, lives on in the concert hall and its enactment proved to be the ideal platform from which to launch CBSO’s commemorations to Shakespeare: vibrant music from the conductor and orchestra, patriotic delivery from the narrator. Gardner induced a sense of period colour and mysticism before sheer grandness took over in the Prologue, a royal sensation reinforced by trumpet fanfares (the trumpet section crisply led throughout by Jonathan Holland) and a flamboyant crescendo of the choir. The scene was set, as in the play by the commentator ‘Chorus’, actor Samuel West dramatically entering stage left for ‘O for a Muse of fire’. Elizabethan merry-making and enthusiastic drum rolls (the CBSO percussion section had a busy night) gave way for the bassoon and brass to introduce the corpulent Falstaff, jug in hand, At the Boar’s Head. But the flatulent jester is dead, his heart broken by the king, having been rebuffed by Hal’s ‘I know thee not, old man’ at the end of Henry IV Part Two, the solemn tone of West and the orchestral accompaniment knitting together impeccably. This eventually gives way to the jubilant familiar Waltonesque strains of Embarkation and a resolute ‘No king of England, if not king of France’ from West. The leave Pistol takes from Mistress Quickly in Touch her sweet lips and part seems an Interlude somewhat out of place to me, not being from Shakespearean text. By contrast Harfleur was dominated by the iconic ‘Once more into the breech’ and although no Olivier (who is?) West oozed inspiration and patriotism, fortified by the ranks of the CBSO willing to follow him. After Chorus describes the early skirmishes, Gardner brought a tension to Walton’s swirling dark music in The Night Watch as West portrayed a ‘little touch of Harry in the night’, the lowering of the hall lights and subsequent total extinguishment, adding to the atmosphere. West was at his best for the philosophical and prayer-like Upon the King, verse so appropriate on the eve of such an historical day in 1415, an execution worthy of the stage of Stratford’s Memorial Theatre or London’s Globe. Agincourt and the St Crispian address to the ‘rememberèd…. band of brothers’, the first ‘few’ to whom so much is owed, saw West begin in conversational mood, gradually building up the fervour in his voice to match the exciting loin-girdling score. Mid-battle King Henry has another word with his maker ‘to dispose the day…. how He pleaseth’ and as the battle raged Gardner seemed to squeeze that extra ounce from the strings (well by Zoë Beyers) fiercer than ever amid the Spirit–of-England theme on the brass, leading to an excruciating musical climax. Against the odds Henry is rewarded – West’s ‘The day is ours’ poignantly heard across the hushed auditorium before praising God. The choir gleefully rejoiced with the Agincourt Song, continuing this mood into At the French Court, where the Duke of Burgundy acts as mediator with more beautiful Shakespearian lines; this sentiment made more contextual by the orchestra’s pastoral back-drop that dissolves into a snatch of Cantaloube’s Baïlèro, hauntingly played by the oboe of Rainer Gibbons. In the Epilogue, the French King offers his daughter Kate to seal the truce. Now with something to genuinely celebrate, Gardner and the CBSO let it rip, revisiting earlier Walton themes. Chorus resumes his story-telling role with ‘Thus far…’ relating how for Henry V ‘Fortune made his sword’, the Agincourt Song and ‘Deo gratias Anglia’ wholeheartedly rounding it all off.

A five star send-off to Our Shakespeare.”

 

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Storify by Jennifer, of Twitter comments:

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