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:

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…     “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:

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…     “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.”

Duruflé’s Requiem

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Wednesday 22 February 2012 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simon Halsey conductor
Karen Cargill mezzo-soprano
Benedict Nelson baritone
Robert Johnston harp
CBSO Youth Chorus

Ravel: Introduction and Allegro 11′
Fauré: Cantique de Jean Racine 5′
Satie (orch. Debussy): Gymnopédie No. 1 3′
Franck: Panis Angelicus 4′ Listen on Spotify
Satie (orch. Debussy): Gymnopédie No. 3 3′
Fauré: Pavane Op.50 6′
Debussy: Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane 9′
Duruflé: Requiem 41′ Listen on Spotify

Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem – written to console the living – is drenched in pastel colours and haunting melodies. If you like Fauré’s Requiem, we think you’ll fall in love with Duruflé’s exquisite homage. It’s the loveliest blossom in a perfumed bouquet of French miniatures: from the delicate grace of Fauré and Satie, to the sensuous beauty of Debussy and Ravel, this is an evening to savour.

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 David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Duruflé’s ‘Requiem’ was a challenging choice for these young singers, but one they rose to and accomplished with considerable aplomb. In fact, hearing this lovely work sung with such tonal openness and clarity of utterance made it sound almost newly minted.

It was certainly not a typical ‘youth choir’ performance, but an often beautiful one – the Agnus Dei, Domine Jesu Christe (Benedict Nelson the fine baritone soloist) and ascending-to-heaven In Paradisum were particularly memorable – with, in the Sanctus and ‘Dies illa, dies irae,’ moments of thrilling drama. And mezzo Karen Cargill (with cellist Ulrich Heinen) gave us a Pie Jesu as gorgeous and sensual as a love duet.”     …

Mozart’s Requiem

Thursday 18 November 2010 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Marie-Christine Zupancic  flute
Sarah-Jane Brandon  soprano
Wendy Dawn Thompson  mezzo
Andrew Kennedy  tenor
Benedict Nelson  bass
CBSO Chorus   

Mozart: Symphony No. 35 (Haffner) 17′
Mozart: Flute Concerto in G major 25′
Mozart: Requiem 50′

The mysterious commission from a masked stranger, Mozart’s deathbed
struggle to complete the score, the rumours of murder… if you’ve seen
Amadeus, you’ll know the legends behind Mozart’s Requiem. But the
reality is even more extraordinary. Hear for yourself, because Andris
Nelsons has assembled some of the freshest and finest new voices on
the concert scene to join him, the CBSO and the acclaimed CBSO
Chorus for a very special performance of Mozart’s sublime final
masterpiece. First, though, we hear from a younger and happier Amadeus,
in two of the sunniest gems from his Salzburg years: the exuberant
Haffner Symphony and the First Flute Concerto, a sparkling showcase
for the CBSO’s popular principal flute, Marie-Christine Zupancic.

Blog post by JanH1:

…”The choir began singing “Requiem” and the gathering volume of some two hundred voices filling all the space in the lofty concert hall was properly spine-tingling; the sort of magnificent din that makes you sigh at the beauty of it and bite your lip to prevent uncontrolled falling of tears.

The massed choir turned the first page of music and, contrasted against their dark suits and black dresses, the sudden flutterings of white looked like the wingbeats of hundreds of white doves.  It was a good omen.” …

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

… “And we ended with the sublime Requiem. Never mind scholarly nitpickings about the various completions of this unfinished score from Mozart’s deathbed, we just bathed in the sounds, now consoling, now dramatic, of this unique final testament of a composer taken from us far too young, as unfolded in Nelsons’ swiftly-paced yet loving reading.” …

Rating * * * * *

Review by Rian Evans, ClassicalSource:

… “From the very opening there was a dark, underlying tension which, over the course of the work, periodically erupted with a turbulent intensity. It was not simply a question of the D minor tonality and parallels with the score of “Don Giovanni”: the ‘Dies Irae’ in particular stood out for its almost Verdian passion, with blazing natural trumpets and a kettledrum sound which was both thrilling and terrifying. Satisfying in an altogether different way was Nelsons’s sculpting of the long phrasing – as in the ‘Lachrimosa’ – underlining the intrinsic beauty of Mozart’s cantabile lines, both instrumental and vocal. […]

[…] Marie-Christine Zupancic – CBSO principal flautist – was the highly accomplished and serene soloist in the concerto. Her tone was pure and elegantly expressive throughout her range, with each note – even in the fastest passagework – articulated so as to be meaningful. Zupancic delivered coolly virtuosic cadenzas, but even more striking was the way in which she invested the sections in the minor mode with a heart-wrenching beauty. This depth of feeling in turn allowed the flowing lyricism of the finale to assume added grace. A ‘magic flute’ concerto indeed.”