Steven Osborne: Beethoven

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • 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.
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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.

 

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Review by Richard Ely, Bachtrack:

Click here for full review

…    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.”     …

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Review by Ivan Hewitt, Telegraph:

Click here for full review (scroll down)

…     “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.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “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.”

 

 

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