The CBSO at the BBC Proms

Tuesday 21 August 2012 at 7.30pm

Royal Albert Hall, London +44 (0)20 7589 8212

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor

Glinka: Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila 5′
Howard: Calculus of the Nervous System (UK premiere) 15′
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 in C major ‘Leningrad’ 75′

This concert’s curtain-raiser is a scintillating overture which kick-started a new era in Russian music. In Calculus of the Nervous System, which has already taken Vienna by storm, Emily Howard draws upon her interest in the inner world of Ada Lovelace, pioneering mathematician daughter of Lord Byron, considered a prophet of the computer age.

Shostakovich completed his titanic Seventh Symphony as German armies advanced deep into the motherland. More recently it has also been seen as one of his exercises in tactful subversion, depicting a Leningrad whose intellectual life Stalin had already shattered. www.cbso.co.uk

Review by Tim Ashley, Guardian:

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…     “The power of Nelsons’ interpretation lay in his understanding of the score’s emotive nature and intent. This is music that demands we be thrown off balance and drawn into total identification with its world, and Nelsons, conducting with unswerving passion, achieved precisely that. Passion alone, however, can lead to flaws of pace in this work, and beneath Nelsons’ energy lurked secure control of its structure and trajectory. The emotional high point, tellingly, came not during the convulsions of the first movement, but in the third, in which echoes of Russian orthodox church music suggest a ritualised outpouring of communal grief. An exhausting, elating experience, and absolutely unforgettable.”     …

Review by Michael Church, Independent:

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…     “If Andris Nelsons and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra made a good fist of this, they excelled themselves with Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” symphony, which came over in as majestic a blaze as I have ever heard. Wonderful wind soloists, superb strings, percussion letting loose the dogs of war: a magisterial performance which richly deserved its ovation.” 

Review by Kimon Daltas, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “One barely earned interval later, the main event – and right from the off, the symphony makes demands of the winds especially, both exposed and in ensemble. Ferocious fortissimos notwithstanding, it deals mostly in sparse textures and gradual build-ups, so there is nowhere to hide when your turn comes. The CBSO was more than equal to the task, and a number of exceptional soloists rose from the ranks to deliver Shostakovich’s sometimes winding, sometimes impish and angular melodies. Whether piccolo, bassoon or cor anglais, and from a screeching E flat clarinet to its rasping bass cousin, a vast orchestral and expressive palette emerged with tremendous surety. Not to leave the strings out – the leader’s aerial solo in the first movement set the tone, and the extended strings-only sections later in the work showed what a rich core this orchestra has.

There is plenty of down time in this symphony – moments where you’re waiting for the next thing to happen but a direction has yet to emerge. Andris Nelsons kept the intensity throughout, and richly deserved the audience’s cheers.”

Blog by Robert Hugill:

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…     “Both the middle movements are intended to be unsettling, with relatively conventional first sections followed by rather demonic passages. Here the CBSO were in full character, with Nelsons whipping them up into a fine frenzy. There was a superbly evil solo from the E flat clarinet and a well realised passage where Shostakovich gives the solo line to the bass clarinet, accompanying it by flutes and harp. Here, and in many other places, Nelsons showed himself very acute when it came to Shostakovich’s distinctive aural palate.”     …

Blog review by Edward Seckerson:

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…     “Nelsons’ subtle way with the inner movements brought ghostly and ethereal beauty, the wide compass between the E-flat and bass clarinets accentuating the spectral extremes of the second movements gentle and only briefly disturbed dance of death and one truly heartstopping moment in the third movement where strings recall the Stravinskian chorale of its opening.

Those pianissimi are of such import in this music and the long slow climb to the coda of the last movement lifted us from the intensely private to the unashamedly public. The affirmation, for all its filmic rhetoric, was – as it always is – mighty.”

Blog by Starcourse:

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“Terrific performance of the Leningrad Symphony last night at the Proms, with Andris Nelsons conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Nelsons has an ebullient and distinctive conducting style which was well suited to this work, and to the Glinka Ruslan and Lyudmila overture which began the concert. The CBSO was playing its socks off in the Shostakovich, as well it might given that it is such a monumental masterwork.”     …

Blog by HikerBiker:

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…     “Andris Nelsons and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra brought this all out of the music, they survived with panache the dramatically exposed solo passages and the no less demanding unison sections. The split brass (soloists high up above the violins audience left) punched clear, clean and hard whilst the orchestral brass partnered finely with the rest of the platform.

A standing ovation with foot stamping was the audience’s reaction, Andris Nelsons acknowledging the many orchestral soloists in turn.”     …

Review by Chris Caspell, ClassicalSource:

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…      “Nelsons set a jaunty pace from the start; more allegro than Allegretto. Full-blooded, take-no-prisoners playing by the unison strings at the start signalled good things to come; this was a well thought out performance. However, issues of balance were a problem. The side drum was far too loud at the start of the ‘invasion’ theme (it is marked ppp) and in loud passages it was impossible to hear anything but the brass – even the xylophone was lost! The two middle movements gave Nelsons an opportunity to wring the pathos out of intimate passages. Of particular note the oboe and cor anglais solo were beautifully phrased.”     …

Review by Matthew Lynch, Bachtrack:

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…     “The CBSO’s performance under Nelsons was simply electric. From the outset the strident opening benefitted from the orchestra’s impressive string sound, while the second subject was still and sensitively played. The woodwind solos were all beautifully controlled, but not lacking any of the necessary spring and excitement. Special mention must go to the E-flat clarinet player, Joanna Paton, and piccolo player, Andrew Lane, whose playing was especially gripping.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this performance was the dynamics. The pianos were breathtakingly quiet, while every crescendo gave the impression it could continue indefinitely. The central section of the first movement is a long marching “invasion” and crescendos inexorably towards the movement’s climax. The CBSO filled the hall, making the floor rumble with sound, while maintaining perfect balance. So often these moments can become one big roar of brass, but that wasn’t the case here. Nelsons managed to direct a performance that not only had wonderful moments, but felt like an organic whole over the work’s full 75 minutes, an impressive achievement for any conductor. Anyone who ever had doubts about the CBSO’s future should see this concert as proof that they continue to impress greatly.”

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “But the ruminations of subsequent movements meander mercilessly, though the delicacy of the CBSO woodwind, flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic absolutely outstanding in her constant exposure, did make eloquent points.

Never mind; this was a performance built on utmost patience and control, and amazing, cherished trust between orchestra and conductor. And the Prom audience, including many charabanc’d members of the CBSO supporters’ club and bigwigs from Symphony Hall, responded with a huge ovation.”     … 

*****

Symphony Hall needs your vote!

Symphony Hall, Birmingham’s internationally renowned concert hall, has been announced as a nominee for the Best Arts & Entertainment Venue Award in this year’s Best of Broad Street Awards, after winning the category in 2009 – as voted by the public.

The Best of Broad Street Awards [BOBS], supported by the Birmingham Post and Birmingham Mail, honour the achievements and contributions of the many bars, venues and restaurants west of the city centre through 23 award categories.

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