Beethoven Week: The Choral Symphony

ThumbnailRaise the Roof

Sunday 21st September 2014 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Annette Dasch  soprano
Lioba Braun  mezzo soprano
Ben Johnson  tenor
Vuyani Mlinde  bass
CBSO Chorus  

Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 27′
Listen on Spotify

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (Choral) 67′
Listen on Spotify

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the summit of any Beethoven cycle – and some might say, the whole of classical music. But there’s a lifetime of experience to live through before we get to that final, transcendent Ode To Joy, and Beethoven’s explosive little Eighth Symphony launches a concert that’s sure to be one of the most talked-about events in Birmingham this year.

Supported by The Mailbox

If you like this concert, you might also like:
War and Peace, Thursday 6th November
Schubert’s Great, Wednesday 14th January 2015 & Saturday 17th January 2015
Brahms and Beethoven, Wednesday 25th March 2015 & Saturday 28th March 2015

£12.50, £19, £25, £34, £39, £44 plus transaction fee*

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Plaudits first to the glorious CBSO chorus, their discipline making Beethoven’s huge demands on them appear negligible: intonation and enunciation of Schiller’s words wereimpeccable, and the care given to the oft-repeated word‚ “brüder” underlining the aspiration to peaceful brotherhood had its own powerfully cumulative effect. The orchestra, too, was in optimum form: details precisely honed, while also sustaining the almost Wagnerian expansiveness that Nelsons brought to the phrasing. The Eighth Symphony, a world away from the lofty ideals of the Ninth, had carried the same balance of a dancing grace with dramatically explosive bursts of rhythmic energy.

But from the quietly arresting opening, it was the organic progress of the Ninth that held the attention, with the contemplative heart of the slow adagio allowing the choral finale to emerge as a logical conclusion to everything so far. South African Vuyani Mlinde who sang the stirring bass solo, joined with soloists Annette Dasch, Lioba Braun and Ben Johnson, to push the reluctant Nelsons on for a solo bow. Nothing to do with him, he tried to suggest, only the genius of Beethoven.”

*****

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The cycle culminated in a magnificent ninth: a scherzo of relentless energy, a slow movement wafted in from a beatific realm, an orchestral recitative which really spoke and a well-integrated quartet of soloists in Annette Dasch, Lioba Braun, Ben Johnson and Vuyani Mlinde who were equal to Beethoven’s demands.

And of course there’s the tremendous 130-strong CBSO Chorus, under their associate conductor David Lawrence, their articulation and attack enhanced by having the score in their heads rather than their heads in the score.

If the CBSO is the crowning glory of Birmingham’s musical life then its Chorus is the jewel in that crown.

In Schiller’s Ode to Joy, the celebrants are described as “feuertrunken” (drunk on fire) and often the orchestra played like that – intoxicated by Beethoven’s music, soaring on a natural high which infected the audience with their enthusiasm and brought us all within the enchanted circle for the duration of each work. It was a privilege to be invited in.”

 

Mozart’s C Minor Mass

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Thursday 26th June 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Malin Christensson  soprano
Christine Rice  soprano
Ben Johnson  tenor
Vuyani Mlinde  bass
John Tattersdill  double bass
CBSO Chorus  

Mozart: Symphony No. 40 26′
Mozart: Misero! O sogno – Aura, che intorno spiri 11′
Mozart: Per questa bella mano 7′
Mozart: Mass in C minor 51′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

When Mozart got married, he made a pact with heaven – and Mozart took his promises seriously. The result was the tremendous C minor Mass: a soul-shaking choral epic on the grandest possible scale. If you love Mozart’s Requiem, you’ll be knocked backwards when Andris Nelsons, the CBSO Chorus and a top-notch team of soloists come together for a concert that also features Mozart’s best-loved symphony and his only solo for double bass, featuring the CBSO’s popular section leader. Hearing is believing.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Sarah-Jane Brandon has sadly had to withdraw from these concerts. We are grateful to Malin Christensson for taking her place at short notice.

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Mozart’s Requiem has the fame but his Mass in C minor perhaps has the more beautiful music. The wind band harmonies at the start of Et incarnatus est with Malin Christensson soaring gently above them was balm for the soul.

The Swedish soprano began the Kyrie tentatively, her trill sketchy, but relaxed and improved as the work progressed.

In Domine Deus she blended well with mezzo Christine Rice who was assured and agile in the demanding coloratura passages of Laudamus te, accompanied by crisp and energetic playing from the CBSO, astutely conducted by Andris Nelsons.

The CBSO Chorus was splendid and their intensity and dynamic range in Qui tollis made it the dark heart of the work: they’re a credit to choral director Simon Halsey.”     …

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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “The humour of Mozart cropped up again in Per questa bella mano, an unusual combination for bass voice, solo double bass and orchestra – the only time Mozart composed for the largest member of the string section and at K612 he left it rather late. But he had his reasons! By making the instrumental obbligato part extremely difficult, Mozart (according to one source) supposedly intended to humiliate his orchestra’s double bass player for having shown an interest in his wife Constanze; a more plausible reason for its composition was simply for its inclusion in a little known comic opera of 1791. CBSO section leader John Tattersdill, who has been with them since 1973, was never going to be embarrassed: his leaps and double-stopping were more than equal to the task. Even the centre platform grouping of a male vocalist, a conductor and a double bass player struck me as somewhat comical. The low register affirmation of love from an effortless Vuyani Mlinde was deliberate in tone yet resounding in projection; together with the emphasised movements of the virtuosic Tattersdill up and down his instrument’s long neck, the combination exuded parody.”     …

The Birmingham Beethoven Cycle: Symphonies 8 and 9

Thursday 27 June 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Lucy Crowe  soprano

Mihoko Fujimura  mezzo-soprano

Ben Johnson  tenor

Iain Paterson  bass

CBSO Chorus

Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 27′ Listen on Spotify
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (Choral) 67′ Listen on Spotify

It’s been an incredible journey, and tonight Andris Nelsons, the CBSO and our world-class Chorus arrive at Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: the summit of any Beethoven cycle – and some say, the whole of classical music. But there’s a world of experience to live through before we get to that final, transcendent Ode To Joy, and Beethoven’s explosive little Eighth Symphony launches a concert that’s sure to be one of the most talked-about events in Birmingham this year.

A fresh look at Beethoven’s Symphonies – Andris Nelsons & the CBSO Part of The Birmingham Beethoven Cycle, click here to see the full Cycle guide.

Sponsored by BarclaysThe  Birmingham Beethoven Cycle is being supported by Barclays and through the generosity  of Miss Brant, a lifelong supporter of the CBSO who died recently.

Listen online  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010xvfz/episodes/player – available for a week

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “A fluid generosity of beat, unperturbing eye-contact between conductor and players, and sometimes no baton-wielding at all, generated a lithe, open-hearted account of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, apparently the composer’s “little favourite”; though this could never be described as a runt, despite the huge presence of the Eroica symphony and the Ninth.

And the latter,  the first and greatest of all choral symphonies, was delivered with amazing momentum (perhaps we missed a little awe in the cosmic opening movement ) and a genuine awareness of its yearning lyricism.

This is a work fuelled by the horns, whether sturdily proto-Wagnerian, warmly supportive, or, in the adagio , reaching out into the ether, and the CBSO players proved proudly in their element.

As did timpanist Peter Hill, casting great boulder-clouts (Bruckner would remember them 50 years later) in the scherzo , delicately chording at the end of the adagio.”     …

*****

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Review by Rohan Shotton, BachTrack:

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…     “A long pause was taken before the slow movement. The opening chords were feather-light before opening out with gorgeous warmth. The woodwind achieved a similar warmth when they took the theme. Again, beating was a side-issue for Nelsons, whose concern for phrase shaping produced some wonderful moments. When the famous theme of the fourth movement appeared, he maintained a soft legato which gave a tremendous sense of innocence and optimism. Even with the multiple orchestral layers being added, the strong impression was of hope, rather than joy.

The great sense of joy finally burst out to shattering effect at the 6/8 time chorus after an intense fugue. The CBSO Chorus were magnificent, attending to clear diction whilst providing a vast wave of sound. There was a subtle push on “Brüder” to emphasise Schiller’s call for brotherhood. The coda was as thrilling an end to the cycle as could be hoped for, taken at a quick prestissimo and earning a huge ovation, especially for the chorus and their director, Simon Halsey. Even a sleeping guide dog was roused into tail-wagging enthusiasm during the last pages.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “The choral finale was kept on a tighter rein, as if it had more than enough theatrical grandeur of its own. With a fine quartet of soloists – Lucy Crowe, Mihoko Fujimura and Ben Johnson, led off by bass-baritone Iain Paterson – and the CBSO Chorus as secure as ever, the sheer impact of Schiller’s Ode was never in doubt. The Eighth Symphony had been a different matter: the way it sprang bristling into life signalled immediately that this was not a work to be treated lightly, or one that would be out-muscled by its more monumental sibling in the second half. Nelsons and his superb orchestra made sure that every bit of its rhythmic and harmonic detail packed a punch.”

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Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

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…      “No 9 may be very familiar but it still never ceases to grab an audience by the throat when it is performed live. From the first notes it dives in and never lets go. Through an intense first movement, into a lively second, a more serene third and then into the choral fourth movement, it showcases Beethoven’s brilliance.

Conducted by music director Andris Nelsons, the orchestra was comfortable and confident with the symphony’s challenges, rising to the occasion with plenty of vigour.

The soloists, soprano Lucy Crowe, mezzo Mihoko Fujimara, tenor Ben Johnson and bass-baritone Iain Paterson, blended perfectly with each other and the CBSO Chorus who were busy singing their hearts out.

By its close we were in little doubt that the CBSO and Nelsons have truly grasped Beethoven in all his complexities, depth and wonder.”

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Review by Richard Morrison, The Times (£££):

Click here for full review

Tristan and Isolde

Saturday 3 March 2012 at 4.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Stephen Gould  Tristan
Lioba Braun  Isolde
Christianne Stotijn  Brangäne
Brett Polegato  Kurwenal
Matthew Best  King Marke
Ben Johnson  Melot / Shepherd
Benedict Nelson  Sailor / Helmsman
Men of the CBSO Chorus  

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (Sung in German with English surtitles) 230′ Listen on Spotify

A wounded knight, a tragic bride, and a love that’s stronger than death. When Richard Wagner premiered Tristan und Isolde in 1865, he changed music forever. You can hearTristan und Isolde as the greatest love story ever told; or you can hear it as an emotional experience so overwhelming that no music will ever sound the same again. But with lifelong Wagnerite Andris Nelsons conducting a superb hand-picked cast, just make sure you hear this extraordinary concert performance.

The approximate running times of Acts 1, 2, and 3 are 80’, 75’, and 75’ respectively. There will be a one-hour interval after Act 1 and a 20 minute interval after Act 2. Please note the change to the previously advertised interval durations, in response to the needs of the artists.

Find out what our musicians love about this music – watch music director Andris Nelsons and CBSO cello section leader Ulrich Heinen discussing Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde.

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

This concert is within the CBSO season and also forms part of Symphony Hall’s 21st Anniversary Festival. It may be booked as part of a CBSO or Birmingham International Season concert package.

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “One of the highlights of Nelsons’ Lohengrin had been Lioba Braun’s Ortrud, and she was the star of this performance too, not in the role of Brangaene, in which first made her name in the 1990s, but as Isolde. Feisty and fierce in the first act, meltingly tender in the second, she sang the final act’s Liebestod with mesmerising, rapt containment.”     …

Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

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…     “And yet these things took on a human glow, thanks to conductor Andris Nelsons’s wonderful pacing of the score. He seized on the drama’s essential conflict of fevered desire and yearning for oblivion, and made it vividly real in musical terms. Flexibility of tempo was the keynote, a quality evident in Nelsons’s masterly shaping of the Prelude. It issued out of nothingness in groping, hesitant notes, and constantly pushed and fell back in speed. Nelsons shrewdly drew back at the climax, opening the way to the drama to come.”     …

Blog review by Intermezzo

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…    ” It’s not exactly news that Andris Nelsons is an exceptional Wagner conductor. Everything comes down to his grasp of detail. Those broad sweeps and surges are built up from finely judged tempos and infinitely graded dynamics. Not a note passed unconsidered; the music was constantly alive. A halting, reticent overture hinted we might be in for a meditative interpretation, but once the story got going, a powerful theatrical pulse started beating. Symphony Hall’s warm acoustic magnified a sumptuous and often thrilling sound, with chorus and sometimes soloists placed above and behind the orchestra to make the most of the hall’s spatial qualities.”     …

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The orchestra relished the opportunity to reveal what a responsive, flexible, sonorous and delicate opera orchestra it is      […]

[…]     And the singers were uniformly magnificent: Lioba Braun such a warm-voiced Isolde, her Act One Narration well-paced, her Liebestod building to a cathartic climax, and with such vivid body-language; Stephen Gould’s well-supported tones much less barking than some other heldentenors, and so sweetly nuanced; Matthew Best’s King Marke sorrowingly authoritative; Christianne Stotjin a Brangaene of genuine personality, her watch-tower warnings shimmering with moonlit mystery: Brett Polegato conveying all of Kurwenal’s bluff decency.”     …

Review by Fiona Maddocks, The Observer:

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…     “a concert performance of Tristan und Isolde, Nelsons’s first. Yet again this young Latvian proved himself among the most exciting and exploratory Wagnerians alive. Yes, that good. He takes immense risks, sometimes slowing the tempo to a near standstill then accelerating with a surge of alert, manic urgency. He taxes his players to the limits of breath or bow control, demanding extremes of volume or, far harder, near silence.

The CBSO, who could surely play the Prelude to Tristan in their sleep but never have the chance to play the entire score, responded with lustrous virtuosity, with special praise to the bass clarinet, cor anglais, trombones and harp. Many of the singers were new to their roles, including Lioba Braun (Ortrud in the CBSO and Nelsons’s 2010 Lohengrin), a mezzo who sounded pale in soprano high notes but who compensated with the intelligence of her reading.”     …    

 

Review by Rian Evans, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review 

…     “Lioba Braun by contrast was most musical, portraying an Isolde who was totally credible. Spirited and gutsy in the first Act, the body language conveying a great deal without any resort to histrionics, her voice carried warmth and humanity to embody Isolde’s healing gift. In Act Two, the effects of the love-potion were manifest in the sound: Braun produced the most meltingly beautiful tone in the middle of range – a reminder that it was the mezzo role of Brangäne that Braun sang very successfully in the 1990s – but she negotiated the upper range with impunity, only occasionally harsh at the top under duress.      […]

[…] Nelsons’s control was as dynamic as ever: the veiled colours with which he painted the tone, the clarity of details, the force with which the great climaxes were built, albeit of necessity unfulfilled, all demonstrated the a sure touch. Ralph van Daal’s cor anglais solos deserves special mention, always well-focused, and particularly beautifully when playing off-stage in Act Three. In the ‘Liebestod’ Braun realised all that is sublime and transcendent in the score, still sounding remarkably fresh and poised. Her ability to shape the phrasing ensured an expressive immediacy both engaging and moving. It set the seal on a memorable evening.”