Beethoven’s Fourth

Wednesday 28th September, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Wagner Tannhäuser: Overture and Venusberg Music , 24′
  • Sibelius Violin Concerto , 31′
  • Beethoven Symphony No. 4, 32′

Jack Liebeck’s encore – Francisco Tarrega – Memories of the Alhambra

At the court of the goddess Venus a young poet enjoys pleasures beyond his wildest imaginings. Finland’s greatest composer relives his childhood dreams of being a great violinist. And Beethoven cuts loose in the brightest, lightest symphony he ever wrote. It’s all about the stories: and violinist Jack Liebeck and former Opera North music director Richard Farnes know exactly how to make them spring, tingling, into life.


Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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 …     “Once conductor Richard Farnes unleashed the fortissimo chords that send the movement roaring on its way there was a vast improvement. Basses ground away gruffly, the upper strings soared and suddenly the music began to resemble the composer Robert Simpson’s description of its “compact supple movement” and “dangerous lithe economy.”

The danger lurked just below the slow movement’s seemingly placid surface while on top Oliver Janes’ lovely clarinet sang mournfully. The scherzo’s manic energy was infectious while Farnes and the players clearly relished the finale’s Haydnesque high jinks. Similarly, the performance of the Overture and Venusberg Music from Tannhäuser impressed most in the extrovert passages where the percussion section excelled – castanets in Wagner!

It’s the fashion now for many soloists, seeking to make an instant impact during their entry in Sibelius’s violin concerto, to play it barely audibly in an attempt at making it ethereal.

Jack Liebeck played it straight and mezzo-forte just as the composer requested and this set the pattern for a strong, sinewy performance which didn’t try to make the work more “poetic” than it is. ”     …


Review by Richard Ely, Bachtrack:

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…     “By contrast, Farnes’ stately canter through Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony almost did. This was a winning performance with the right kind of attention paid to balance and dynamics and the orchestra, for the first and only time this evening not seeming hemmed in by the sense of properness that had afflicted the earlier items. Described by Robert Schumann as a “slender Greek maiden” (between the Nordic giants of the Third and Fifth symphonies), this is a work that can struggle to make an impact because it lacks the assertive character of its immediate neighbours. Farnes didn’t seek to make apologies for the Fourth’s ‘small scale’ character in a reading that balanced the darker elements that hang over the opening moments with the lighter ones that overtake them as the work progresses. The acceleration into the Allegro vivace of the first movement was expertly handled and there was a glowing account of the Adagio as well as an ideally contrasted repetition of the Trio section in the Scherzo.  ”     …



Steven Osborne: Beethoven

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Thursday 22nd September, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Beethoven Egmont: Overture, 8′
  • Beethoven  Piano Concerto No. 1, 37′
  • Butterworth  A Shropshire Lad , 11′
  • Walton Symphony No. 2, 27′

Steven Osborne’s encore – Beethoven Bagatelle op.

No-one conducts British music with more eloquence and flair than Edward Gardner, who tonight rediscovers two very different twentieth century masterpieces: Walton’s sparkling, neglected Second Symphony and – 100 years since Butterworth’s death on the Somme – the heartbreaking A Shropshire Lad. First though, another treasure of British music, pianist and CBSO Artist in Residence Steven Osborne, brings all his poetry and power to Beethoven’s exuberant First Concerto.



Review by Richard Ely, Bachtrack:

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…    Even in as fine a performance as this one under Edward Gardner, it was easy to hear why this relatively brief (under half an hour) but richly textured work has struggled to be heard. Although displaying all Walton’s acknowledged gifts for orchestration, the absence of instantly memorable themes (‘pop’ music, if you like) and a passacaglia finale that seems merely repetitious on first hearing can make the symphony seem more a virtuoso exercise in style than a work of depth and feeling. But for anyone familiar with the piece, there was no doubting that Gardner had the measure of it. This was a performance that galvanised all sections of the CBSO, reaching a peak of expressiveness in the central Lento assai movement – considered by Michael Kennedy to be a character study of Cressida, the mercenary courtesan from Walton’s contemporaneous opera Troilus and Cressida – where the violins and the woodwind created an inspired body of sound that was both seductive and sinister. Anyone with more than a glancing acquaintance with this score would have been delighted by such an exciting performance. Judging from their faces at the end, both conductor and orchestra felt they’d pulled off quite a coup!

Dating from immediately before the First World War, Butterworth’s ‘rhapsody for orchestra’ A Shropshire Lad is an altogether more approachable work, an evocation of the English countryside of the kind we are perhaps over-familiar with from the contemporaneous likes of Moeran and Delius. But this was a fine, sensitive performance of a difficult to programme piece, an evocation of the Housman cycle of poems which Butterworth had earlier set to music. Most of the burden of the work falls on the strings and woodwinds, whose reiteration of the rhapsody’s defining Dorian motif was powerfully expressive.”     …


Review by Ivan Hewitt, Telegraph:

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…     “The conductor was Ed Gardner, a longtime favourite guest conductor of the orchestra, who has a way of bringing out the best in the players. The opening chords of Egmont were brusque as well as stern, and the answering plaintive phrases in the woodwind were beautifully shaped. One had the sense of the music labouring under a massive weight, eventually thrown off in the joyous final minutes, where it seems as though tyranny has been banished for ever.

Steven Osborne, pianist in Beethoven’s first piano concerto, gave a similar sense of throwing caution to the wind. He can be the most fastidious and careful of pianists, and what made this performance so thrilling was that these qualities lived side-by-side with reckless daring-do. The cadenza of the first movement (that’s the moment where the soloist gets a chance to spin some virtuoso solo fantasies on the melodies) was especially telling. With ostentatious cleverness, it combined things we’d already heard, then seemed to invite the orchestra to join back in, and then unexpectedly went back to the first melody but in the wrong key. It was gruffly humorous in a properly Beethovenian way, but who composed it? I suspect it was Osborne himself.

After all that blazing Enlightenment optimism and Olympian laughter, the gentle nostalgia of George Butterworth’s Rhapsody on his own A Shropshire Lad might have seemed a terrible come-down. In fact the performance was so beautifully shaped, the lovely opening phrase from clarinetists Oliver Janes and Joanna Paton so tenderly evocative of a long-lost summer afternoon, that one didn’t mind the lowering of the emotional temperature.”     …


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Steven Osborne, this season’s CBSO artist-in-residence, was soloist, bringing a Mozartean clarity of articulation combined with well-coloured pedalling, and there was a wonderful fluidity of phrasing from all concerned. Particularly memorable were the magical soundworld of the Largo, with the pearly elaboration of Osborne’s filigree, and the twilit conclusion of the finale, spoilt only by Beethoven’s own noisy shooting himself in the foot.

George Butterworth’s Rhapsody: A Shropshire Lad was a poignant reminder that a century ago the Battle of the Somme was raging, and that indeed the composer himself had been killed during its course. During his tragically short life Butterworth made quite a mark on the English musical scene, and this account revealed how much parts of Holst’s Planets owe to the composer, with Oliver Janes’s solo clarinet singing regretfully over the shimmering nostalgia of the strings, aching and yearning.

The zippy urgency with which Walton’s Second Symphony opens provided quite a contrast under Gardner’s energising conducting, sympathetic as well to the dappled, sunlit timbres which link the work to the contemporaneous Cello Concerto.

In the Lento Assai Walton gives us one of the greatest slow movements ever penned by an Englishman in any format, its gorgeous outpouring of melody caressed so fervently by a willing, alert CBSO responding to this remarkable conductor.”



Sue Perkins Live!

In Spectacles

Sunday 18th September, 2016

Birmingham Town Hall


Doors open: 7PM
Event start time: 7:30PM
Interval: Time TBC
Approx finish time: 10PM

A rare chance to enjoy an evening with Sue Perkins packed full of sparkling wit, great stories, a user’s guide to Mary Berry and the very best bits from her hilarious best-selling memoir Spectacles.

Sue is best known for being one quarter of double act Mel and Sue. In 2008 she won the BBC show Maestro culminating in her conducting at The Last Night of the Proms. She has collaborated with food-critic Giles Coren on the Supersizers series, created the acclaimed travel documentary The Mekong River with Sue Perkins and is a regular contributor to Have I Got News For You, Just a Minute, Qi and The News Quiz.

Oh, and apparently she does some cake show on BBC1.

Read more about the tour by clicking here.

Each ticket will include a copy of Sue’s new book Spectacles (RRP £7.99) to be collected on the night. Sue will be signing copies after the show.

Spectacles is as charming and funny as Perkins herself. Like going for a long, slightly drunken lunch with your naughtiest friend.

RED magazine

Warm, crisp and beautifully layered – like its author, Spectacles is a complete delight.

Independent on Sunday