The Seven Ages of Shakespeare

Wednesday 1st June, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Nicolai  The Merry Wives of Windsor – Overture , 8′
  • Arne  Songs, 8′
  • Sullivan  The Merchant of Venice – Masquerade Suite, 12′
  • Vaughan Williams  In Windsor Forest , 18′
  • Porter  Kiss Me, Kate – highlights , 12′
  • Berlioz  Béatrice et Bénédict – duet , 10′
  • Purcell  The Fairy-Queen – highlights , 20′

“Sounds and sweet airs, that delight and hurt not…” No-one serves up musical entertainment with a sunnier smile than Nicholas McGegan. And there’s laughter in the air tonight, as he introduces four centuries of musical tributes to Shakespeare: from Cole Porter to Purcell’s all-singing, all-dancing take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Fairy-Queen. In between, there’s Berlioz, Arne… and you’ve heard of Gilbert and Sullivan? Now discover Sullivan and Shakespeare.

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Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “And when he uses that knowledge – as in the shimmering, whispered closing bars of the duet Vous soupirez, madame? from Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict – he can hold an audience breathless. What did work – gloriously – was Vaughan Williams’s cantata In Windsor Forest, a suite of choral offcuts from his operatic version of The Merry Wives of Windsor, Sir John in Love. McGegan’s trump card here was Simon Halsey’s CBSO Chorus: bright, clear and alert, they made each phrase dance as well as sing, relishing the Tudor drolleries of the Drinking Song and providing great glowing arcs of sound in the Bridal Chorus. McGegan and the orchestra responded with a huge Sea Symphony swell.

The best came last: effectively the whole of Act IV of The Fairy Queen, with the three soloists plus tenor Andrew Henley taking their season-themed solos with poise and a rich palette of colours, and the full CBSO – yes, all on modern instruments, and with at least 30 players on stage – playing vibrato-free and drawing from Purcell’s score a range of shades and textures to match any period-instrument band. McGegan, beaming with enjoyment and looking at times as if he was about to start bodypopping, draped violin lines artlessly over Purcell’s melancholy plaints, detonated volleys of trumpets and timpani, and shaped big, dramatic dynamic contrasts. A choir of over 120 in Purcell’s lively little refrains? Well, why shouldn’t we get to hear music this good sound this magnificent, at least once in a while? It’s a celebration, after all. And if this concert proved one thing, it’s that genius is infinitely adaptable.”

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Review by Ruth Horsburgh, Redbrick.Me:

Click here for full review

…      “Nicholas McGegan expertly and energetically conducted the orchestra and chorus with an infectious enthusiasm. There was an abundance of skill on display on stage, with excellent solos performed from all sections of the orchestra. The orchestra performed every piece strongly, with pinpoint accuracy in achieving the softest and tender dynamic to relay poignancy or a wave of sound which triumphantly enveloped the music hall, as was evident in their commanding performance of Sullivan’s ‘The Merchant of Venice – Masquerade Suite’. This effect was also enhanced by the CBSO Chorus, which is made up of, as was said in the programme notes, ‘amateur professionals’. Their skill as a choir was particularly evident in their performance of Vaughan William’s ‘In Windsor Forest’, with sweeping and beautiful melodies filling the auditorium.

There were also vocal solos performed throughout the evening, including a memorable and charming duet of ‘Wunderbar’ from Kiss me, Kate by Cole Porter, between Mezzo Soprano Sandra Piques Eddy and Baritone Duncan Rock. Soprano Fflur Wyn beautifully performed several solos, a highlight being ‘When Daisies Pied’ by Thomas Arne, which epitomised the harmonious relationship between Shakespeare and music, with a call and response ‘Cuckoo’ section. This was then followed by tenor Andrew Henley who sang Arne’s ‘Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun’.

Shakespeare is renowned for his ability to convey the complexities of love and human relationships and this variety was reflected in the performed pieces, from the poignant Berlioz performed by the two soprano soloists to the feisty and amusing ‘I Hate Men’ performed by Piques Eddy. The evening culminated in a united and compelling rendition of Purcell’s ‘The Fairy Queen’.”     …

 

The Firebird

Thursday 3rd March, 2016, 2.15pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Tchaikovsky  Hamlet , 20′
  • Saint-Saëns  Cello Concerto No. 1 , 19′
  • Berlioz  Romeo and Juliet – Love Scene , 14′
  • Stravinsky  The Firebird – Suite (1945), 29′

Leonard Elschenbroich’s encore – Lutoslawski – Sacher Variation
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A dark kingdom, a troubled prince, and a spine chilling mystery… OK, so Hamlet and The Firebird don’t exactly tell the same story! But they both unleash music of sweeping passion and dazzling colour, just as Romeo and Juliet gave Berlioz a chance to pour out his romantic soul. Nicholas Collon leads a colourful toast to Shakespeare, and partners the award-winning Leonard Elschenbroich in Saint-Saëns’ warm and witty First Cello Concerto.
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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet is not heard as often as it should be. It lacks a big, sweeping tune such as one finds in Romeo and Juliet and it’s not as wild and passionate as Francesca da Rimini but it’s still a fine piece. Collon led a very successful performance, establishing a sense of foreboding in the opening pages and then bringing out all the dramatic elements as the music unfolded. There was a lovely oboe solo (Rainer Gibbons) portraying Ophelia and, indeed, in that section the rest of the woodwind were just as fine. I was impressed with Collon’s handling of the score though perhaps just a little more ‘give’ in the piece’s lyrical passages would have been welcome. He obtained excellent, keenly responsive playing from the CBSO. In the brief coda Tchaikovsky’s tragic ending was successfully done, not least because Collon didn’t overdo the emotion; an element of patrician restraint was most appropriate.

The young German cellist, Leonard Elschenbroich joined the orchestra for the Saint-Saëns concerto. It was written in 1872 for the Belgian cellist, Auguste Tolbecque who must have liked the work for I learned from Richard Bratby’s programme note that he was still playing the concerto in public in 1910 at the age of 80. And why would he not have liked the piece? It’s relatively short – about 20 minutes in this performance – but it gives the soloist plenty of opportunities to shine both in virtuoso writing and in lyrical stretches. The three movements play without a break.

It seemed to me that Elschenbroich was very well suited to the concerto. Needless to say, he had the necessary technique to despatch the virtuoso passages with seeming ease. Moreover, the consistently burnished and lovely tone that he obtained from his 1693 Goffriller instrument meant that the many lyrical passages were a delight. Indeed, his tone compelled attention throughout the performance. I especially liked the central Menuet movement. Here the orchestral strings displayed sensitive courtliness in playing the minuet material at the start – and later their woodwind colleagues were equally felicitous. In the meantime Elschenbroich made his countermelodies sing in a most attractive way. The vivacious finale was despatched with high spirits by soloist and orchestra. This was a most enjoyable account of a thoroughly engaging work.”     …

Tchaikovsky’s Sixth

Wednesday 17 February, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture, 9′
  • Prokofiev Sinfonia concertante, 37′
  • Tchaikovsky  Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique), 45′

“Pathétique” means “full of emotion”: simple as that. And from first bar to last, Tchaikovsky’s epic Sixth Symphony brims with anguish, longing and unforgettable Tchaikovsky tunes. The charismatic young Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare won’t stint on the passion; nor will his wife Alisa Weilerstein – soloist in Prokofiev’s huge, brooding “symphony concerto”. Hector Berlioz lights the fuse amidst a riot of Italian sunshine.

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…    “From the opening notes it was clear we were in for a warm, emotional time of it. By the end of the first movement, with interventions from different quarters of the orchestra but basically an improvisation for the cellist, you could sense that Weilerstein held the audience in the palm of her hand. The middle movement also held the gems of a heart-rendingly lyrical melody and a captivating extended cadenza, as well as some noteworthy wind highlights. 

Theme and variations was the order of the day for the final movement, with a relentless sensation of impetus throughout.  The cello played the stately main theme, contrasting with a more light hearted cadenza. This in turn led to a little comic relief courtesy of bassoon then cameo for soloist and a sextet of solo strings, which they all clearly enjoyed. Countless high arpeggios on the cello concluded this passionate interpretation and the audience responded equally warmly. 

If Prokofiev hadn’t long to live after Sinfonia Concertante was finished, Tchaikovsky’s death came even harder on the heels of his Symphony no. 6 in B minor, “Pathétique”. He famously commented on being pleased with this symphony: “I give you my word of honour that never in my life have I been so contented, so proud, so happy in the knowledge that I have written a good piece”, but he died just over a week after its première, rumoured to be suicide although never proven.

Unusual in its mood, since minor key symphonies in the 19th century were generally darkness-to-light journeys, this remains dark, reflected in the “Pathétique” label which conveys deep feeling and suffering. By the end of the finale, the music fades away into the darkness from which it emerged in the first place. A sense of struggle is highlighted by dynamic extremes and it’s full of powerful emotion. But there are plenty of beautiful lyrical melodies, as well as opportunities to showcase the various orchestral forces, with the balance well-handled by Payane – the violas were under the spotlight for a couple of passages, and rightly basked in their applause afterwards. The whole indulgent performance got an enthusiastic reception from the packed Symphony Hall audience.”

 

 

Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass

ThumbnailRaise the Roof

Thursday 5th March 2015 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor
Luba Orgonášová  soprano
Sarah Connolly  mezzo-soprano
John Daszak  tenor
Clive Bayley  bass
Thomas Trotter  organ
CBSO Chorus  

Berlioz: Overture – Roman Carnival 9′
Berlioz: Les Troyens: Royal Hunt and Storm 10′
Berlioz: La Mort de Cléopâtre 21′ Watch on YouTube

Janácek: Glagolitic Mass 45′
Listen on Spotify

“The fragrance of the trees was like incense,” declared Leos Janácek. “I felt a cathedral grow from a great forest.” And with its jubilant trumpets, thundering organ and raw, unbuttoned lust for life, there’s nothing quite like the Glagolitic Mass. The CBSO Chorus loves to sing it, and Edward Gardner gets the pulse racing straight away, with three barnstorming showpieces by Hector Berlioz. Hold tight!

This concert has been made possible with support from an anonymous donor through the Keynote Programming Fund.

Support the CBSO

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post

Click here for full review

…     “The Royal Hunt and Storm from Berlioz’ huge opera The Trojans made dramatic use of Symphony Hall’s spatial resources, brass scattered around the auditorium, Gardner drawing from the orchestra both pounding hooves and subtle sylvan delicacy.

But the real gem in this collection came with the early competition cantata La Mort de Cleopatre, where the gauche Berlioz painted vivid orchestral colours, pre-quoting the Carnaval Romain along the way, macabre both in timbre and harmony, and ending with a totally chilling death-rattle (Berlioz had once worked in a mortuary before fleeing into the arms of music).

Gardner conducted with flexible fluency and empathy with mezzo soloist Sarah Connolly (actually unacknowledged in the programme-book), singing with immense control and evenness throughout her range, and communicating the queen’s despair with self-possessed dignity.

Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass is as much a paean to nature’s life-force as it is to God.

It blazes with the earthiness of one late work (the Sinfonietta) and the pantheism of another (The Cunning Little Vixen).”    

*****

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Sarah Connolly then joined the orchestra for the cantata La Mort de Cléopâtre. This was the piece that Berlioz submitted in 1829 as his third attempt to win the coveted Prix de Rome. The judges were renowned for their collective conservatism and so, since Berlioz didn’t trouble to dilute his adventurous style, the entry was unsuccessful. (The following year Berlioz submitted a somewhat more compliant composition and finally won the prize with the cantata La Mort de Sardanaple.) La Mort de Cléopâtre may not be top-drawer Berlioz but it’s well worth hearing and, my goodness, the music made a strong impression in this performance. The benefits of having a soloist and conductor who are highly experienced in the opera house were plain to hear. Sarah Connolly gave a gripping and completely convincing portrayal of the shamed, tragic queen, dishonoured and so doomed to die by her own hand. Her singing was intense and highly dramatic yet neither the sense of line nor her lustrous tone were ever sacrificed on the altar of drama. She was magnificent in the central Méditation (‘Grands Pharons, nobles Lagides’) and the way in which she almost whispered the queen’s last phrases was utterly compelling. Her performance was a riveting piece of musical acting. Edward Gardner matched her achievement, bringing out the highly original sonorities of Berlioz’s score and supporting his singer at all times. The very end, where bare-textured strings illustrate Cléopâtre’s death itself, was arresting. The astonishing originality of a passage such as that – and many others in the score – must have had the Prix de Rome judges calling for the smelling salts.     […]

[…]     As it was, Gardner was pretty persuasive in the familiar version of the score. Janáček’s pungent wind and brass writing registered extremely well – and there was a thrilling contribution from timpanist Matthew Perry – while the rhythms were crisply articulated throughout the performance. All the dramatic and exciting passages made an impact but the delicate side of this vibrant and colourful score was put across with equal success. All departments of the CBSO, with guest leader Charles Mutter deputising for an indisposed Laurence Jackson, responded as keenly to Gardner’s direction as they had done in the Berlioz items.

 A strong solo quartet had been assembled. It’s as well we’d had the chance to admire Sarah Connolly in Berlioz for Janáček confines the alto soloist to a fairly small contribution during what is in the Latin usage the Benedictus and a slightly fuller part in the Agnus Dei. Predictably, Miss Connolly was excellent in these pages. The bass has a bit more to do and Clive Bayley was firm of tone and projected strongly. The main solo parts are for the soprano and tenor.  Luba Orgonášová has the right timbre and vocal presence for this music and she impressed me. So did John Daszak who was not daunted by Janáček’s testing tessitura – Daszak’s profession of faith in the holy and apostolic church towards the end of the Creed was the thrilling moment that it should be.

 There is a fifth soloist in this work: the organist. Thomas Trotter gave a tremendous display, coming into his own completely in the wild organ solo which is the penultimate movement.  It was very exciting to hear that solo on the Kleist organ of Symphony Hall and, in a commanding and virtuoso performance, Trotter drew a wide range of sounds and contrasts from the mighty instrument.

 There probably isn’t a British choir that’s more familiar with this work than the CBSO Chorus – I think they first performed it well over thirty years ago. Their familiarity certainly showed here. Expertly prepared by Julian Wilkins, the choir sang with the tremendous assurance, flexibility, agility and depth of tone that we’ve long associated with this excellent choir.

 This was a fine performance of Janáček’s extraordinary score, which remains extraordinary no matter how often one hears it. It set the seal on a stimulating evening in Symphony Hall.”

Mediterranean Classics

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Wednesday 22nd October 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Alain Altinoglu  conductor
Renaud Capuçon  Viola

Rossini: An Italian Girl in Algiers – Overture 8′
Berlioz: Harold in Italy 42′ Watch on YouTube

Stravinsky: Apollo 29′
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No. 2 16′
Listen on Spotify

Pirates of the Mediterranean, hard-drinking bandits, and Greek gods who know how to party… just another night in with the CBSO! The French conductor Alain Altinoglu caused quite a stir last season; tonight he’s devised a concert with a Mediterranean flavour, from Berlioz’s Byronic fantasy to the Olympian grace of Stravinsky’s art-deco ballet, and the sensuous, shiver-down-the-spine beauty of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. Pure hedonism: go on, indulge!

6.15pm – Conservatoire Showcase Granville Bantock: Pagan Symphony Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Seal, performs a neglected work by one of the CBSO’s founders.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Spanish Night, Thursday 22nd January, 2015 
American Classics with Freddy Kempf, Wednesday 28th January, 2015 
Schubert, Strauss & Dvorak, Thursday 19th February, 2015

Support the CBSO

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Review by Peter Marks, Bachtrack:

Click here for full review

…     “In fact, Capuçon’s playing had a sweep and passion that proved hard to resist.

Paganini was famously disdainful of the work. He had encouraged Berlioz to write a piece to showcase his newly-acquired Stradivarius viola in 1833 but he was unimpressed by the number of tacet bars the soloist has while the large orchestra unleashes its collective might in the score’s whipcrack tuttis. This is most apparent in the last movement, particularly after the clever introduction – surely a tribute to the opening of the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in its recall of the thematic material from all that has come before – when the soloist steps aside for the riotous music of the brigand’s orgy. If Capuçon fell short at all it was in the string crossing passage at the centre of the Pilgrims’ March second movement; others have made this sound more magical.

Altinoglu, for his part, clearly has an affinity for the music of his compatriot composer. He maintained a steady trajectory through the more symphonic outer movements ensuring Berlioz’s spiky rhythms were meticulously articulated. Not for Altinoglu the abandon of the late Sir Colin Davis in this repertoire, but that is not to say that he and the orchestra held back. Climaxes were unleashed but in a more controlled fashion. No doubt this is a result of Altinoglu’s technique: his gestures are small and precise, only becoming more animated when required. Every gesture appeared helpful to the orchestra and likely explains the commitment and security that was on display in every department of the orchestra, from front desk to back.”     …

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “The later movements, too, revealed why Capuçon received a spectacular ovation with the Symphony Hall audience. Here the fabulous flute had exactly the right kind of mystery over (or under) the viola’s arpeggio-ing, which the soloist kept so beautifully quiet. Miracles, too, from the descanting flute department over the viola’s return in the section that followed the pilgrims. There were nicely delicate brass touches too to relish in the second movement, and the pilgrims’ exit, left to Harold to mimic with his arpeggios resolving the intermittently  elusive key in alt, felt just wonderful. Two successful middle movements, in fact.

Designed as a rip-roaring Hollywood Finale, the last movement thrilled with its brigandish assaults, though even here Berlioz manages to take the viola down to pianissimo, as the orchestra shouts out cackling laughs straight out of Weber in the brass. The strings excelled themselves in this finale – as stylish in their spirited braggadocio as previously rocky at the start. With Laurence Jackson, soon afterwards to be heard as solo, at the helm, they really can achieve rich and wonderful effects. Even when battling the trombones’ threats, the strings remained stylish – taking Harold’s side, perhaps. But one of the loveliest moments is when Harold, feeling isolated, virtually duets with himself. Double-stopping was rarely so touching, or so narrative-enhancing. It’s a lonely end, even amid the hubbub.

Everything was building towards Daphnis and Chloe – not the whole work, so no sweeping choruses and shattering, choir-upholding sequences. But this was Suite No 2, and it’s the sort of repertoire Altinoglu revels in, as Rattle did here before him. Again Marie-Christine Zupancic’s flute solo – she is a fine successor to the CBSO’s great, now veteran Colin Lilley – was crucial in the scenes for Chloe. This was the work Ravel was supposed to write for Diaghilev in 1910 (the Firebird took its place; and it only hit the stage in between the next two Stravinsky ballets, reaching its audience in 1912). The CBSO woodwind have some ravishing passages, some of them fused with strings, and here, in repertoire they have recorded, the entire orchestra responded to Altinoglu’s sympathetic, sensitive lead. Daphnis is one of the most gentle of Greek myths, one of those one terms bucolic. The rural feel has more than an echo of Berlioz about it; and so too does the unbuttoned finale, which Fokine whipped up into a dramatic whirl, well up to Berlioz’s Harold and Symphonie Fantastique.”     …

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…     “Concluding the concert, the Second Suite from Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé (1912) confirmed Altinoglu’s prowess in a performance as was more than the sum of its parts. The intensifying expressive contours of ‘Daybreak’ built to a radiant culmination, after which the increasingly animated discourse of ‘Pantomime’ featured dextrous woodwind-playing as found contrast in the mounting abandon of ‘Danse générale’ – so bringing the evening to an uninhibited close.

Instead of a talk, the pre-concert slot brought a rare revival of Pagan Symphony (1928) by Granville Bantock. The second of his four designated Symphonies, its single-movement trajectory comprises six sections which, between them, correspond to the customary four movements. Thus the tranquil introduction gains impetus as it heads into an ebullient Allegro, the momentum spilling over into a hectic scherzo whose climax in an unaccompanied percussion ‘break’ and the score’s most arresting passage. From here brass fanfares prepare for a sustained slow movement whose would-be voluptuousness is complemented by a final section which brings the work to a rousing close.

It hardly needs adding that Bantock’s paganism is of a distinctly English kind, nor that the work’s ambition rather outstrips its achievement, but the music evinces a virtuosity to which the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, under the watchful direction of Michael Seal, did justice (Duygu Ince coping ably with the often Straussian demands of the leader’s role). A long-time resident of Birmingham, Bantock would doubtless have expressed his approval.”

San Francisco Symphony

and Michael Tilson Thomas

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Friday 14th March

Symphony Hall

San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas conductor

St Lawrence String Quartet

Ives (arr Brant) The Alcotts from A Concord Symphony 6’
John Adams Absolute Jest for Orchestra and String Quartet 27’
Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique 49’

Encore – Copland – Saturday Night Waltz

America is a land of new perspectives; and under its dynamic music director Michael Tilson Thomas the San Francisco Symphony has built a worldwide reputation for innovative programming. Tonight they present a fresh take on music by Charles Ives, a true American original, before teaming up with the St Lawrence String Quartet for John Adams’s vibrant new quadruple concerto (you can listen to a short extract from the piece here). And to finish, Berlioz’s spectacular Symphonie Fantastique – music that never stops sounding new.

In the video below, Tilson Thomas gives an exclusive introduction to the works featured in the concert.

Oliver Condy, Editor of BBC Music Magazine explains why he has recommended tonight’s concert:

During his time at the helm of the San Francisco Symphony since 1995, Michael Tilson Thomas has transformed his orchestra into perhaps the finest in the US. His energy is thrilling, and his passion for the American music he’ll be conducting will doubtless be palpable. As for the radical Berlioz? He and MTT were made for each other.

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Michael Tilson Thomas talks to Christopher Morley:

Click here for full article

…     ”   “For me, making music is a journey I like to compare to going to a park. You may know the park, you know the trails. But the company in which you find yourself has a great effect on the nature of that journey.

“Over many years having walked these trails in these symphonies with my colleagues in San Francisco there’s a sense of ease of our ability to turn our attention to one thing or another while having the big objective of the journey in mind.”     ”   …

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Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “After a good deal of busy music a brief, slower section dominated by the quartet, initially accompanied by tuned and un-tuned percussion, seems to act as both slow movement and cadenza. The orchestra becomes involved in this slow episode after a while and the music then accelerates into hyperactivity in a way that put me in mind of Shaker Loops and, later, of Short Ride in a Fast Machine. The work seems to be heading for a tumultuous end and then, in a masterstroke, Adams cuts off the quartet and full orchestra and the last word – a quiet one – is provided by the deliberately mis-tuned piano and harp.

I enjoyed Absolute Jest greatly and I’m impatient to hear it again. So far as I could tell on a first hearing it received a fabulously virtuosic and committed performance from both the St. Lawrence String Quartet and the orchestra. I was delighted to see that the Birmingham audience gave the piece a very warm reception.

After we’d all got our breath back during the interval Tilson Thomas conducted a work that he says is in his bone: Symphonie Fantastique. This is a score tailor-made to show off a virtuoso orchestra and that was achieved here. However, I mustn’t give the impression that MTT treated it as a ‘mere’ showpiece for such was not the case. The introduction to the first movement was shaped delicately and with great finesse in the playing. The different hues of Berlioz’s amazingly original scoring were expertly realised. When the main allegro was reached the reading was lithe. The San Francisco woodwinds had ample opportunity to show their agility and the strings were capable of great dexterity without ever sacrificing their natural sheen and lustrous tone.

The waltz was elegant and graceful, though I would have loved it if the two harps had been positioned on either side of the orchestra instead of side by side: Leonard Slatkin does this on his recent recording and the results are wonderful (review). Tilson Thomas ensured that the waltz was moulded winningly, the music always light on its feet. There was much marvellously nuanced playing in a highly atmospheric account of the Scène aux champs. Here was poetry but always allied to expert technical control. I’ve heard some other conductors impart a touch more menace into the March au supplice, usually by adopting a slightly more deliberate tempo than was chosen here. The march was quick-ish but even if it lacked a degree of menace it was still powerfully projected.”     …

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Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph

Click here for full review

…     “The piece from Ives was actually risky in a different way. Entitled Alcotts, a   movement from the Concord Piano Sonata as orchestrated by Henry Brant, it   began with a modest flute solo, like a half-remembered folk-tune. Below, a   choir of clarinets cushioned the tune; above, strings floated like morning   mist. To capture that dewy immaculate sound and to still an audience into   rapt concentration at the beginning of a concert is a difficult feat, but   they pulled it off. A less showy opening to a tour would be hard to imagine. 

How effortful and busy John Adams’s recent Absolute Jest seemed in comparison.   Adams is at pains to explain that his piece, which makes a lot of hectic   play with scraps of Beethoven tossed between a solo string quartet and the   orchestra, is definitely not a joke. He means “jest” in the sense of the   Latin “gesta” meaning deeds or exploits. Now when a composer starts playing   with Beethoven’s sublime late quartets and burrowing into Latin   etymologies, he’s clearly making a bid for the high ground. You have to sit   up straight and pay attention.”     …

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “It was almost a magnificent Symphonie Fantastique. The ball scene was elegant with the orchestra’s high strings silkily seductive and the pastoral episode was illuminated by a beautifully- played duet of cor anglais and magically distanced oboe.

In the march to the scaffold, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas wisely refused to rush, giving the movement an atmosphere of grim inexorability. The witch’s sabbath cackled wickedly with some ripe and saucy wind playing, trenchant brass and an impressively thunderous timpani contribution which brought the evening’s loudest ovation.

But Thomas’s approach in the opening movement was too mellow and level-headed, not adjectives appropriate to Berlioz especially in this work, and instead of languorous despair and fervid elation we merely had meandering thoughts and slight pique.”     …

Dvořák’s New World Symphony

Tuesday 2 October 2012 at 2.15pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Nicholas Collon conductor
Francesco Piemontesi piano

Berlioz: Beatrice and Benedict – Overture 8′
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20, K.466 30′
Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 (From the New World) 40′ Listen on Spotify

Francesco Piemontesi’s Encore – slow movement of Schubert’s Sonata in A major D664

As the inspiration behind London’s award-winning Aurora Orchestra, the young British conductor Nicholas Collon has thrown aside convention and let fresh air in on the capital’s music scene. Making his CBSO debut today, he’s the ideal partner for the inspirational Italian pianist Francesco Piemontesi in Mozart’s powerful 20th Piano Concerto – and just the man to bring new life to Dvorák’s ever-popular New World Symphony. Berlioz’s playful Overture is the perfect appetiser, full of love and laughter.

www.cbso.co.uk