Brahms’ German Requiem

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 22nd October, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25, K.503, 30′
  • Brahms A German Requiem, 70′

Francesco Piemontesi’s encore –
Unfortunately, Susan Gritton has had to withdraw from the these concerts due to illness. We are grateful to Eleanor Dennis for taking her place at very short notice.
“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted”. Brahms didn’t believe in God, but he did believe in love, and as he grappled with personal tragedy he created a Requiem intended to comfort those left behind. Andrew Manze conducts our acclaimed Chorus in this most tender of all great choral works, while Francesco Piemontesi rejoices in the sunlight of one of Mozart’s noblest concertos.
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Q&A with Francesco Piemontesi in the Guardian “Facing the Music“.

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Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

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…     “Although the Requiem is some seventy minutes long, there was not a moment when I was not fully engrossed. Beginning with some gorgeously resonant bowing from the basses and cellos, Manze created a tension in the acoustic that he shaped, moulded, folded and manipulated perfectly, remaining undaunted by the magnitude of the work nor by the 180 strong assembly of singers and instrumentalist facing him. Indeed, it was remarkable just how much they trusted him, and he held them entirely in the palms of his hands as he coaxed delicate whispers in pianissimo and sucked out the breath from their diaphragms in majestic and unrestrained fortissimo.

The CBSO Chorus were at their very best. I have seen them a number of times and hold them in the highest regard, but in this piece and under Manze’s baton, they excelled themselves. Each section held its own and the distinction between the alto and soprano voices was especially clear. Yet this was not a concert of an orchestra supporting a chorus, or vice versa, but of two ensembles being played as one. At no point were any voices drowned out by the instruments, and each section played in complete sympathy with the others. The timpani (played by Antoine Siguré) was perfectly weighted in the piano passages and thunderous in crescendo, exactly as it should be. The principal flautist (Veronika Klírová) was making some wonderful sweet lyrical songs from her part, and played particularly beautifully in the final few bars of the fifth movement.

The two principal voices of the requiem, a baritone and a soprano, were provided by Mark Stone and Eleanor Dennis respectively. Stone performed admirably, his lower register seemingly sharing some of the same resonance as the bowed basses and cellos in the opening bars of the first and second movements. His diction was excellent and he projected well, making full use of the acoustics in the hall. Dennis was a last minute substitution for soprano Susan Gritton, unfortunately unable to perform due to illness. Dennis sang the part with quite a heavy vibrato which suited the solemn and melancholic mood, and her performance of the fifth movement was one of the highlights of the evening.”     …

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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

Although the text Brahms employs for his Ein deutsches Requiem is taken from the Old and New Testaments (plus two verses of the Apocrypha) it makes no reference to Christianity as such. This was intentional, giving the work universal rather than national or sectarian appeal. Indeed, after its premiere in 1869, the composer pointed out that he might well have omitted ‘German’ from the title and substituted ‘Human’. And this performance of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Andrew Manze on 22nd Oct 2015 was a human one, reflecting the highs and lows of life.

The piece was inspired while Brahms was mourning the loss of his mother and the first movement Selig sind, die da Leid tragen (Blessed are they that mourn) very much conveyed a feeling of bereavement. The reiterations of Selig sind from the CBSO Chorus were truly blessed; their variations of the Beatitude couplet offering both soothing sympathy and heavenly solace, emotions smoothly aided at times by the oboe of Rainer Gibbons. It was a superb opener: the German text coming across well whether the voices were in unison, the repeated Getröstet (comfort), or in sequence, Die mit Tränen (with tears). The soaring sopranos on denn sie sollen (for they shall) were inspirational. Manze added a marschemässig to the continuing langsam tempo for the second movement Denn alles Fleisch (For all flesh), Antoine Siguré solidly beating out the rhythm. The music drove forward at funereal pace to the texts of Peter and James, before liltingly celebrating the ‘fruits of the earth’.

After the A Section reprise, Manze strikingly burst forth with a triumphant Aber des Herrn Wort (But the Word of the Lord). Mark Stone was imposing enough as the baritone soloist in the next section Herr, lehre doch mich (Lord make me know) although I thought his words from Isaiah more pleading that prayerful. The sopranos of the CBSO chorus led the way in the popular fourth movement Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (How amiable are thy tabernacles). Birmingham is blessed with a richly acclaimed choir, and they once again stole the show on 22nd Oct 2015 with this movement; with Director Simon Halsey seemingly taking a back seat, it was Matthew Hamilton of the Hallé who was credited as Chorus Master, proving he had done his homework well.”     …

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

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…     “But it’s a hard sing – though you wouldn’t have thought so listening to the effortless, gold plated CBSO Chorus last Thursday – and, if not handled properly by a sympathetic conductor, can be exhausting to sit through. On this occasion, however, it was not.

From the outset a wonderfully hushed opening chorus showed how alert Andrew Manze is to tone and structure which, as the work progressed, acquired an almost symphonic dimension. Admittedly, he couldn’t do much about the contrived conclusion to ‘Herr, lehre doch mich’ (Mark Strong the robustly articulated soloist) or the cloying sweetness of ‘Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen’ (a waltz in all but name, clearly enjoyed by the choir).

And ‘Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt’, undoubtedly the most cogently wrought of its seven movements, was contoured superbly well by Manze, with clenched-fist energy at the climax and a thrilling concluding panegyric.”     …

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Brahms and Beethoven

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Saturday 28th March 2015 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

Concert Packages

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Manze  conductor

Steven Osborne  piano

Vaughan Williams: Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus 13′

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 28′ Listen on Spotify

Brahms: Symphony No. 2 45′

Steven Osborne’s encore –

Beethoven – ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata 29 – Second Movement

When Brahms went on holiday, all his troubles fell away – and that’s exactly the effect of his lovely second symphony, 45 minutes of glowing landscapes, jubilant trumpets and tunes that never seem to end. The very English serenity of Ralph Vaughan Williams is a gentle prelude to Beethoven’s most brilliant piano concerto, played today by one of Britain’s brightest keyboard stars.

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Review by , BachTrack (for matinee of the same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “As it rose again, it was for a remarkable rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in B flat major. Whether it was actually Beethoven’s first, strongly influenced by Mozart’s style, or whether it was his second, showing the composer looking back to his hero, Steven Osborne captivated the personalities of both great composers in a sheer magical way. At no point were we aware that active interpretation was taking place, it was as if the music streamed from him in a natural flow, and only long afterwards did you notice how unobtrusively sophisticated phrasing was, or the shaping of dynamics.

Introduced with a strongly textured orchestral sound, Manze virtually threw little dynamic accents that the orchestra eagerly caught. Then Osborne entered with such a pleasantly soft attack I hadn’t thought possible on Symphony Hall’s terribly hard piano (which, it has to be said, also has its merits: Beethoven’s strong bass lines came out beautifully and carried well through the orchestra without becoming muddy). Osborne’s playing was simple, calm and thoughtful, matching Manze’s laid-back movements, making the dialogue-like alternating passages of piano and orchestra in the second movement so intensely focused you didn’t dare to breathe.

His noble reserve also suited the playful Rondo very well: no exaggerated mannerisms distracted from this pure performance, no dramatic movements accompanied those scales of notes like gleaming beads on strings that still threatened to burst with virtuosity. Even though the solo passages, especially in the beginning, struggled to connect seamlessly with the much richer and softer orchestral tissue (I blame it on the piano), the dynamic agility of both soloist and the orchestra made for an arresting last few bars, and the strong connection between conductor and soloist was tangible and gave the concerto developed a simple and natural charm so strong that not even several untidy cues in the orchestra could break its spell.”     …

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post (for matinee of the same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “One can look past the Mozartian elements of the Adagio (easily done when there are no clarinets) and the hovering spirit of Haydn; in the right hands it’s a gem of a concerto by Beethoven at his most romantic.

At least that’s how Steven Osborne played it last Wednesday afternoon, in a performance that, while demonstrating many aspects of an historically informed reading in its elegant phrasing (conductor Andrew Manze engaged all his period-instrument experience to give appropriate weight and articulation of the orchestral support), allowed dynamic contrasts, especially crescendos and diminuendos, to sing with emotional meaning rather than just change volume.

The finale was a particular delight, its humour gently pointed with an almost tongue-in-cheek reticence, and a total avoidance of affectation or posturing (Lang Lang and others please note).”     …

Ultimate Vaughan Williams

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  • CBSO 2020

Wednesday 5th February 2014 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Manze  conductor

Laurence Jackson  violin

Vaughan Williams: Overture, The Wasps 9′

Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis 15′

Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube
Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending 14′

Vaughan Williams: Job, A Masque for Dancing 44′

“He  rises and begins to round / he drops the silver chain of sound…” When The Lark  Ascending takes wing, so do our spirits. But that’s just one side of the genius  of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Andrew Manze has a special connection with this most  English of composers; tonight he shares the rollicking fun of The Wasps,  the timeless passion of the Tallis Fantasia and, to top it all, Job: a blockbuster of a ballet score that’ll change the way you think about English  music. www.cbso.co.uk

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If you like this concert, you might also like:

Mozart and Elgar, Wednesday   19th February

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Thursday   6th March

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Manze has been working his way through the Vaughan Williams symphonies in his appearances with the BBC Scottish Symphony orchestra – their concert  of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth was one of the highlights of the 2012 Proms. But the main work in this Birmingham concert was not a symphony but what some Vaughan Williams enthusiasts regard as his greatest orchestral achievementJob: A Masque for Dancing. This finely judged performance, marvellously spacious and unhurried, never remotely caricatured, certainly reinforced that view of its stature.

Before it came three of Vaughan Williams’s best-known earlier pieces, which had also underlined the virtues of Manze’s forthright, determinedly unsentimental approach. There was not a trace of schmaltz about the big tune in the Wasps overture, while the outlines of the Tallis Fantasia were firm edged, with no hints of wispy pastoralism.”     …

Available to listen again on iPlayer until 12th February.

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Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “The CBSO’s leader, Laurence Jackson was the soloist in the ineffably beautiful The Lark Ascending and he did a splendid job. He played with expert control and no little poetry though even the beauty of his playing couldn’t quite shame the coughers into silence. Andrew Manze accompanied him with all the care and understanding of a fellow violinist and once again his pacing of the music was admirable. The central folk-like section had a nice spring to it and Jackson’s singing tone was a consistent delight. At the end, as the lark spiralled upwards on one final flight of fancy into RVW’s imagined clear summer sky it was possible to forget for a few minutes the gales and rain lashing Birmingham and much of the rest of the UK even as the performance was taking place. I’m sure Laurence Jackson appreciated the sensitive support from his CBSO colleagues; at the end his performance was warmly received – and rightly so.

 Job – A Masque for Dancing was composed between 1927 and 1930. It’s significant that RVW, with his deep appreciation of English cultural heritage, called it a ‘masque’ and not a ‘ballet’; into it he wove several old dance forms such as the Sarabande, the Pavane and the Galliard. The score is compelling on several counts. For one thing the thematic material is memorable – especially such episodes as ‘Sarabande of the Sons of God’, one of RVW’s great, broad tunes. In addition Job demonstrates the composer’s complete command of the resources of a modern symphony orchestra – and here his scoring is lavish, including a large percussion section, two harps, organ and an important saxophone part. Furthermore, it comes from a crucial period in his development. The visionary Sancta Civitas (1925) was just behind him and the Fourth Symphony (1934) and Dona nobis pacem (1936) lay not far in the future. One can hear echoes – or pre-echoes – of all these scores and much else besides in Job which, it seems to me, is a key work in Vaughan Williams’ output.

 This evening’s performance was excellent in every respect. There was a great deal of subtle and sensitive playing to admire, including the persuasive shaping of the Introduction and the Epilogue and the silky strings during ‘Job’s Dream’ (Scene IV). Among many fine solo contributions there was an eloquent oboe solo in the ‘Minuet of Job’s sons and daughters’ (Scene III). The scoring in this episode is marvellously delicate and transparent, recalling Ravel in its pastel colourings; Manze and his players delivered this passage extremely well. A highlight of the entire performance was ‘Elihu’s dance of youth and beauty’ (Scene VII). Restored to his leader’s chair, Laurence Jackson gave a superb account of the radiant violin solo. Here RVW revisits, some 16 years on, the clear blue skies of The Lark Ascending. The relationship between The Lark and this solo was emphasised by the unique opportunity to hear both in such close proximity and played by the same violinist.

 While there is a great deal of beautiful music in Job there are also many passages of great power and even brazen force, the latter chiefly associated with the character of Satan. The moment when, after Job’s patience has snapped under the weight of his trials and he curses God, there is a dread glimpse of Satan sitting on God’s throne (Scene 6) occasions a cataclysmic climax.  The cursing of God was anguished and powerful in this performance but the vision of Satan was overwhelming. Here the organ made a telling impact, pedal reeds deployed, I think, to ram home the point. At the start of this scene RVW’s use of an oily saxophone to represent Job’s comforters is a masterstroke. I think it was bass clarinettist Mark O’Brien who doubled on the saxophone at this point and his wheedling, penetrating playing was just right.”     …

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The CBSO leader Laurence Jackson’s interpretation had a quality once considered quintessentially English – the ability to convey deep emotion through understatement.

His heart was in the music not worn on the sleeve. Jackson’s lark was as lyrical and rhapsodic as one could wish and its chaste beauty was perfectly at home in the work’s dreamy summer landscape.

To begin this all-Vaughan Williams evening Andrew Manze conducted a Wasps overture which fairly fizzed along straight from its opening buzz but with a slow central section lovingly shaped and cultivated rather than left as a patch of generalized pastoral.

The CBSO’s strings excelled in the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis: the interplay between the two string orchestras and quartet section clearly delineated and eloquently articulated.”     …

*****

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Review by Ben Norris, UoB Blogfest:

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…    “This concert was part of the CBSO:2020 series, which – as the famous orchestra approaches its centenary in six years’ time – features works composed in the decade leading up to their inaugural concert in September 1920. The Lark Ascending, written in 1914 (initially for violin and piano) and arguably Vaughan Williams’s best known work, therefore formed the centrepiece of the evening. And here, unlike in Fantasia…, that desire for otherness is satisfied absolutely. At the moment, say, where the beautiful solo violin might take a phrase too many, the oboe emerges, pure and defiant. It was in this piece, and the final one, where we heard the CBSO, under Manze’s skilful guidance, at their most dexterous and antiphonally fluent. Laurence Jackson was the soloist, and he did an admirable job with a notoriously delicate part, occasionally sounding hollow or airy, but commendably never dispassionate.

The concert concluded with Job – A Masque for Dancing, which Michael Kennedy (in his excellent programme notes) calls ‘a synthesis of various elements in his [RVW’s] musical personality,’ and it was thus perfectly positioned at the end of the programme. By far the most dramatic and ambitious of the evening’s pieces, Job takes the listener on a journey too nuanced to describe in this short review, but one through which the CBSO led us expertly. Jackson – with the other excellent soloists – found full voice here, making his violin sing sweetly with the nostalgic themes of a composer whose place in the hearts of the British concert-going public appears deservedly secure.”

Autumn Contrasts

Wednesday 7 November 2012 at 2.15pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Manze conductor
Rainer Gibbons oboe

Mozart: Symphony No. 25 26′
Vaughan Williams: Oboe Concerto 19′ Listen on Spotify
Schumann: Symphony No. 2 34′ Listen on Spotify

Engaging, inspired and endlessly lively, Andrew Manze is quickly making a name as one of the most charismatic conductors around – and a firm favourite with musicians and audiences alike. Here he brings his famous verve to bear on Mozart’s explosive youthful masterpiece, before sharing two very personal musical passions: Schumann’s gloriously romantic Second Symphony, and Vaughan Williams’s radiant, serenely lyrical Oboe Concerto played by the CBSO’s own Rainer Gibbons. It could quite possibly be the loveliest piece of English music you’ve never heard. www.cbso.co.uk

 

Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…    “Vaughan Williams’ oboe concerto received its first CBSO performance for more than 30 years – and it’ll probably be another 30 before it’s heard again.

Rainer Gibbons was the eloquent soloist, nimble and neat in the scampering minuet and spinning some elegant lines in the finale.     […]

[…]     Schumann’s Second Symphony is a marvellous work but must be a conductor’s nightmare. In the opening movement the wind section could have been miming for much of the time as they were overwhelmed by brass and strings. Not Manze’s fault, just Schumann’s turgid orchestration. The scherzo was brilliant as was the finale with Manze unleashing the brass and timpani to great effect. The slow movement is the symphony’s madwoman-in-the-attic: woodwind wailing like a lost soul and shivering tremolo strings chilling the heart.”   …

Visions of England

Saturday 19 May 2012 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Manze conductor
Lisa Milne soprano

Elgar: Introduction and Allegro 13′
Britten: Our Hunting Fathers, Op 8 27′ Listen on Spotify
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 42′

Premiered in the darkest days of the Second World War, Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony seemed like a vision of peace. And if you enjoy British music at its transcendent best, you’ll love this symphony that begins in a misty sunrise and ends with some of the most serenely beautiful music even Vaughan Williams ever wrote. The superb British soprano Lisa Milne brings all her operatic power to Britten’s show-stopping song-cycle – and under conductor Andrew Manze, Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro opens the concert with an exuberant flourish.

To listen to some of the music in this concert, and explore the rest of the season, using our Spotify playlists, click here.

Review by Katherine Dixson, Bachtrack:

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…     “The programme was rounded off with a captivating performance of Vaughan Williams’ Symphony no. 5.     […]

[…] Throughout the piece, the shifting and contrasting tempi were expertly handled by the CBSO, drawing out maximum emotion, especially so in the Romanza, the movement in which Pilgrim rests. The heart-wrenching introductory chords virtually wept, followed by an exquisite contemplative solo on cor anglais, the highlight of the evening for me. The final movement delivered a satisfying sense of arrival and optimism, not to mention a delicious melody.”

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The principals – Laurence Jackson, Briony Shaw, Chris Yates and Eduardo Vassallo –were outstanding, and Manze, a string-player himself, allowed the massed CBSO strings to reaffirm what a formidable force they have become.”          *****