Elgar’s First

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday 7th October, 7.30pm

Featuring

Programme

  • Wigglesworth Études-Tableaux, 12′
  • Britten  Our Hunting Fathers, 27′
  • Elgar  Symphony No. 1, 52′
  • Mark Padmore’s encore / extra treat (with Elspeth Dutch and CBSO) – Britten – Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal

When Elgar’s First Symphony was premiered in 1908, the audience simply stood up and cheered. A century on, it’s still one of the most stirring experiences in British music, beginning and ending with what might be the best tune even Elgar ever composed. For Ryan Wigglesworth – a composer himself – it’s an inspiration. His colourful Études- Tableaux complements Britten’s extraordinary zoological song-cycle, sung by a truly great British tenor.

Support the CBSO

.

Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Wigglesworth’s interpretation was sensitive to the music’s many beauties but sometimes cautiously over-respectful. The adagio shimmered handsomely (woodwind lines always a pleasure to hear) but this gorgeous slow music surges with repressed energy and shouldn’t be reduced to near stasis. The finale however crackled with energy, basses menacing, brass louring – a thoroughly satisfying climax. The occasionally sinister nachtmusik of Mahler and Bartok seemed to waft through Wigglesworth’s own colourful and fastidiously scored (and here brilliantly played) Études-Tableaux for orchestra.

The fearsomely high tessitura of the solo part in Britten’s youthful orchestral song cycle Our Hunting Fathers didn’t intimidate tenor Mark Padmore. He attacked with gusto Auden’s knotty poetry which bookends the five songs, relishing the bloodthirsty Dance of Death with its catalogue of hounds and sharply characterizing the mock-religious exorcism of Rats Away!”     …

.

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “His performance of Elgar’s First Symphony was warmly received, and the orchestra, with all its section principals on duty, played exceptionally well for him. There’s a bold directness about the sound he produces, and the detail he extracts from scores in a faithful acoustic such as Symphony Hall’s. Even if he sometimes fussed, exaggerating ritardandos or adding minute dynamic changes, the thrust of each movement was clear and purposeful, and the return of the main motto theme in the finale’s closing bars as conclusive as it ought to be. 

That ear for detail had been obvious, too, in Our Hunting Fathers, Britten’s astonishingly precocious “symphonic cycle” of 1936, one of his greatest early achievements. Every instrumental strand was tinglingly vivid. Mark Padmore was the immaculate soloist, though occasionally a bit too restrained; there’s more savage irony in the setting of some of the texts than he allowed, though the path he managed to steer though the verbal thickets of Auden’s prologue and epilogue was admirably lucid.”    …

.

Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “Padmore was excellent, always clear and audible in all but the fullest orchestral moments of accompaniment. Most memorable for me was his rendering of “Fie, fie, fie…” in Messalina; a heartbreaking transition from impassioned outcry to almost no sound. The orchestral accompaniment was alert and exciting throughout with Adrian Spillett’ s sardonic xylophone refrain and Amanda Lake’s violin solo particular highlights in the tonally challenging Epilogue.

Trajectory was the name of the game once again in Wigglesworth’s reading of Elgar’s Symphony No 1. This was a performance that knew where it was going: from the forward march of the opening nobilmente (truly both andante and semplice here) theme all the way to it’s triumphant reprise in the piece’s coda. Requiring little recourse to the score, Wigglesworth had the measure of both the sweep and sinews of the “greatest symphony of modern times”. This was a composer demonstrating a deep intellectual understanding of a fellow composer’s construction; every tempo relationship carefully considered and each section paced just right. Yet, there was nothing clinical or detached in Wigglesworth’s interpretation. Climaxes registered with cumulative impact in the epic first movement and tender cello and clarinet solos at its close were touching indeed.

The CBSO’s playing was nothing short of staggering. This is an orchestra with a hell of an Elgar pedigree and I’ve heard them given some very fine performances of his music in the past, but this was something else. The cynic (and conductor) in me expected something in the execution to falter along the way, not least the tricky violin pickup into the final movement allegro given its daring speed and unfussy direction. Surely, the central section of that movement couldn’t be made to sound so poignant without an excessive drop in tempo and, yet, it was. There was no question by the symphony’s close that this was the most remarkable live performance of it I’ve experienced. ”     *****

.

Review by Rebecca Franks, Times (££)

Click here for full review

Elgar’s Enigma Variations

ThumbnailPure Emotion

Saturday 13th December 2014 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Litton  conductor
James Ehnes  violin

Britten: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge 27′
Walton: Violin Concerto 28′ Watch on YouTube

Elgar: Engima Variations 31′
Listen on Spotify

James Ehnes’ encore – JS Bach – Sonato No.3 Final movement

Elgar dedicated his Enigma Variations to “my friends pictured within”, and if all you know of them is Nimrod, you’re about to meet some of the most engaging characters in British music. Guest conductor Andrew Litton begins with Britten’s playful salute to a well-loved teacher, and James Ehnes scales the gleaming heights of Walton’s dazzling Art Deco violin concerto.

Support the CBSO

.

.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post (for Wednesday’s matinee of same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “Whatever thoughts of the Brahms were in his head, Ehnes delivered a wonderfully poignant, soul-searching account of the Walton, his rich, full tones seamlessly singing with resigned regret (despite a waspish, brilliantly-bowed attempt at heady escapism), and Litton and the CBSO reciprocated with arching phrasing and piquant interjections.

What should have opened the concert then followed, Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge the showcase for a CBSO string section on top form, adept in the young composer’s brilliant compendium of styles and techniques.

Britten’s musical characters were followed by the human characters of Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

Litton’s reading was refreshingly unsentimental (thank you for such an honest, unaggrandised Nimrod) but always tender.”     …

*****

.

Review by Rian Evans, Guardian (for Wednesday’s matinee of same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “Ehnes’s fearless response to both works spoke for itself. The fine balance of Walton’s reflective lyricism and its capricious displays of technique were handled with flair, and the tone that Ehnes produced high on the E string lent a sweetness to the music too often lost in more effortful performances. Litton’s instinct for the jazzy element in Walton’s score added to the scintillating effect.

The CBSO string players’ admiration of Ehnes seemed to fire them up for Britten’s Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge, which had been moved to later in the programme so as to allow Ehnes a fast getaway. They played with great elan.”     …

MacMillan’s St Luke Passion

ThumbnailDiscover

Thursday 4th December 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

James MacMillan  conductor
Toby Spence  tenor
Richard Watkins  horn
CBSO Chorus  
CBSO Youth Chorus  

Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings 26′
Listen on Spotify

MacMillan: St Luke Passion (UK premiere) 73′ Watch on YouTube

James MacMillan has been called the greatest British composer since Britten, and his music is urgent, melodious, and burning to communicate. The UK premiere of his St Luke Passion – co-commissioned for the 40th anniversary of the CBSO Chorus – is a major event, and with the composer himself conducting our famous choruses, this is a chance to experience musical history in the making.

.

Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “MacMillan sets the Lucan gospel in the English of the Catholic version but, unusually, he dispenses with soloists and indeed with the role of the evangelist. Instead, he gives the words of the gospel to the full chorus, and the words of Christ to young voices, sung here by the remarkable CBSO youth chorus. Their freshness and purity of sound was symbolic both of the sacrificial lamb of God and of the hope of the Christian gospel.

The simplicity of the word-setting, sometimes just monodic, and the clarity of MacMillan’s choral writing, notably in the unaccompanied sections, ensured a touching directness of expression. The instrumentation – small orchestra with double wind – also realised some striking effects, notably in the brass and timpani, with their occasional resonances of Verdi and Britten, and the Messiaen-like organ outbursts. Duetting oboes also recalled Bach’s passions, as did the emerging strain of the chorale O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden towards the end.

Like their younger counterparts, the CBSO chorus sang out beautifully.”

.

Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “One very interesting feature of this score is that the words of Christ are sung by a children’s choir, often singing in unison but sometimes in up to three parts. MacMillan explains that he took this step because he wanted to “examine [Christ’s] otherness, sanctity and mystery. Employing a children’s choir grants a measure of innocence to Christ as the sacrificial lamb.” I thought this approach worked extremely well and the confidence, discipline, freshness of tone, commitment and maturity with which the young singers of the CBSO Youth Chorus carried out this testing assignment is beyond praise. Clearly Julian Wilkins, who played the crucial organ part in this performance, had trained them scrupulously, not just in the notes but in the spirit of the music

The adult choir carries the main burden of the music and I wondered how this would work in practice as compared to the more conventional approach of having a soloist narrator. I think MacMillan’s decision was completely vindicated, not least because, shrewdly, he varies the choral textures. So some passages are sung by either male or female voices – or a section of the respective voices, such as the tenors – while elsewhere the full choir is deployed, sometimes singing homophonically and at others in more complex polyphony. The music, while far from impossible, I judge, is by no means easy and there are a number of passages where the need for rhythmic precision is especially demanding. On just one occasion, when telling of how Simon of Cyrene was obliged to help carry the cross, the tenors were not quite unanimous in articulating the difficult rhythms but this was an isolated blemish in what was a hugely impressive performance by the CBSO Chorus. Trained as usual by Simon Halsey, the choir seemed to be in complete command of the music and they sang with great commitment as well as accomplishment. In short, this was a typical CBSO Chorus performance.”     …

.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…      “Under the composer’s fluent and encouraging direction, Simon Halsey’s chorus sang with all its legendary attack, projection and clarity of diction, well-balanced and controlled, taut with urgency, and partnered by a CBSO which did full justice to the resourceful imaginativeness of MacMillan’s modest scoring.

The 73-minute work (what a convenient length for a CD!) is sure in its dramatic pacing, and the restless stirrings in the orchestral bass line as Christ ascends into heaven are particularly effective, underpinning the ancient chant melody which the Chorus intones.”     …

War and Revolution

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Wednesday 19th November 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Nicholas Collon  conductor
François Leleux  oboe

Britten: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes 16′
Listen on Spotify

Copland: Appalachian Spring – Suite 24′
Listen on Spotify

Strauss: Oboe Concerto 26′
Listen on Spotify

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9 27′

François Leleux’s encore (with the CBSO) – Gluck: Dance of the Blessed Spirits

1945: year zero. In the USSR, Shostakovich blew a raspberry at Uncle Joe Stalin. In America, Copland conjured a magical picture of lost innocence. In Germany, Richard Strauss was also retreating from the horrors of wartime into an idealised classical past. And in Wolverhampton, Benjamin Britten rehearsed an opera that would change the face of British music. A musical portrait of an extraordinary time – conducted by one of the most dynamic young conductors of our own day.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
MacMillan’s St Luke Passion, Thursday 4th December, 2014
Shostakovich Uncovered, Wednesday 11th February, 2015
War and Revolution, Sunday 15th February, 2015

.

.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“It’s asking for trouble when an agent puts out a biography describing its subject as “recognised throughout the world as the best oboist of his generation”; you can sense the hubris gleefully waiting to pounce.

But there were certainly wonders in Francois Leleux’ account with the CBSO of the autumnal, delicious Oboe Concerto by Richard Strauss. His phrasing was mellifluous, and as open-air as the composer’s beloved Bavarian Alps; interchanges with orchestral soloists were sparkling and well dovetailed (special plaudits to violist Chris Yates); flourishes danced as though from panpipes, and he painted piquant shades of colour.

And for once I welcomed the encore, Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orpheus and Euridice, otherworldly and evocative.”      …

.

.

Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…     “After the interval, François Leleux played Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto. Still the seminal entity in an all too limited medium, it is also the pick from the several concertante works that this composer wrote during his ‘Indian Summer’. Chief among its attractions is the subtlety with which each of the three movements segues into the next, ensuring a continuous thematic transformation as reaches the deftest culmination in the coda. Leleux offered an encore, a limpid rendering of Gluck’s ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’.

Whereas Strauss recollects, Shostakovich in his Ninth Symphony provokes – though whether that was the intention in what is outwardly his most understated such piece remains unclear. Steering a vital course through the tensile opening Allegro, Collon brought out the wistful anxiety of the ensuing Moderato. A breezy Presto led, via the sombre pathos of a recitative-like Largo (with soulful bassoon playing from Johan Lammerse), to a final Allegretto whose laconic humour took on a much more aggressive demeanour in the breathless closing pages.

An alert and perceptive performance, then, of a work which also brought out the best from the CBSO. Nicholas Collon seems to have established a firm rapport with this orchestra, making one look forward to further appearances in comparably well-planned programmes.”

.

.

Review by Christopher Thomas, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “By 1945 Benjamin Britten had reached a point in his career whereby he was redefining British opera, with Nicholas Collon and the CBSO heightening the still glorious originality of the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes in a reading that displayed a deft sense of light and shade in the fragile light of the strings in the opening bars as a grey dawn awakes over the East Anglian scenery. The gentle movement of the water was beautifully captured by the orchestra, as was the subsequent atmosphere of Sunday Morning, its pealing bells set against a backdrop of glistening waves and being portrayed by the orchestra with a bustling sense of activity as the local villagers arrive at church. The final wind ravaged Storm was dispatched with a crushing and masterly paced power although it was the evocative image of moonlight dancing on the waves in the third movement, punctuated by telling interjections from flute that made the deepest impression.

If the troubled psychological backdrop to Peter Grimes found Collon and the orchestra at their most evocative, Copland’s Appalachian Spring was imbued with a sheer joy and wonder that made a very direct impression on the audience in Symphony Hall. From the wide open spaces of the plains to the driving dance rhythms as the happy couple at the heart of Copland’s most overtly popular ballet celebrate their wedding day (the broad grin on Nicholas Collon’s face spoke as clearly as the playing) the joy was beautifully counterbalanced by the aching tenderness of the third section (Moderato) and the prayer like peace and serenity of the closing passages. When played with the freshness that it was here, the infectious accessibility and subtleties of Copland’s score remain vivid seventy years on from its composers attempts to re-capture the attention of an American audience that had become increasingly divorced from artistic culture.”     …

Nelsons Conducts Brahms’ Third

Thursday 5 December 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Isabelle Faust  violin

Wagner: Siegfried Idyll 20′

Britten: Violin Concerto 32′

Brahms: Symphony No. 3 37′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Isabelle Faust’s encore – Bach – Sarabande D minor Partita

Two   chords ring out, the orchestra gathers its strength – and with the force of   a summer storm, Brahms’s Third Symphony crashes upon you. “Free but happy” was   Brahms’s motto for this music, and there’s a whole lifetime of tenderness and   wonderful Isabelle Faust contemplates one of Britten’s finest works – and which   opens with the most beautiful gift any composer ever gave to his beloved?

c9.45pm: Post-concert chat Stay on for a post-concert conversation with Andris Nelsons and Stephen   Maddock.

Due to the popularity of the Birmingham Christmas Market please allow ample time for your journey to Symphony Hall.

A taste of the CBSO’s celebrations of Britten in his centenary year

Britten 100

Part of Birmingham’s celebrations of Britten’s centenary year: www.birminghambritten.co.uk

If you like this concert, you might also like:

CBSO Youth Orchestra, Sunday   23rd February

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Thursday   1st May

Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, Thursday   8th May

www.cbso.co.uk

.

.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “This was the Violin Concerto, a substantial, searching composition which drew an urgently communicative reading from soloist Isabelle Faust.

There was no “listen to me” element in her performance (though we did have to get past the pink liquorice-allsort outfit in which she presented herself).

Tone was painfully sweet where appropriate, attack was proudly articulate (what fantastic strength of bowing), and the music’s disturbed lyricism (Prokofiev was often evoked) always engaged with such an impact.

Andris Nelsons and his orchestra collaborated with so much empathy (the poised, swaying strings at the first movement’s recapitulation live in the memory), and telling instrumental colour, flute, trumpets among others.

The silence within the hall at the conclusion was so eloquent.

Framing this jewel were Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and Brahms’ Third Symphony.

String cushioning in the Wagner gem was velvety and subtly-nourished, Nelsons’ patient, often suspenseful pacing evoking gorgeous Alpine landscapes.”     …

.

.

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Before the symphony, Nelsons had given a final nod to a couple of this year’s important anniversaries. He’d begun with a beautifully paced account of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, which managed to be convincingly intimate, with exquisite pianissimos, despite using the majority of the CBSO’s strings, before moving on to what turned out to be the evening’s highlight. No doubt there have been many performances of Britten’s Violin Concerto this year, but few, I imagine, can have been as searching and startlingly fresh as Isabelle Faust‘s, with its savage, selfless precision, rasping double stopping and sense of always knowing exactly what the destination of this disquieting musical journey really was. Nelsons and the orchestra aided and abetted her every step of the way. Faust’s encore, the Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita, effortlessly poetic and conversational, was an extra treat.”

.

.

Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “This is surely radical music in a way that Wagner simply could or would not appreciate. Brahms, perceived by the older composer to be straitjacketed by form, in fact transcended it by freeing himself of the traditional constraints of barlines and somehow making them imperceptible to the listener.

Such mastery was on full display in this performance by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under their music director Andris Nelsons. This compositional genius inspired the musicians to give of their very best. The strings played with immense warmth; there was not a rough edge to be found. Nelsons moulded the exposition into one long arc. The opening exclamatory chords were fired off without any broadening and sounded almost ecstatic when they were repeated.

The inner movements had the warm glow they should have, and the secret to Nelsons’ winning way with this piece became ever more apparent: Brahms’ music needs to flow without being inpeded, and that is exactly what was allowed to happen in this performance. Nelsons has not always allowed his Brahms to flow in this way before, having tended to massage this phrase and that on previous occasions. In the orchestra, all departments were on tremendous form, but the woodwind players, displaying a creamy tone and huge reserves of unforced expressiveness, really came into their own in these movements.

The epic final movement was pitched at just the right tempo: flowing but with a solid foundation, underpinned by a powerful double bass section that was rightly encouraged throughout.”     …

Britten 100: Centenary Concert

  • ThumbnailDiscover

Friday 22 November 2013 at 7.30pm

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

Simon Halsey  conductor

Nicholas Daniel  oboe

David Goode  organ

CBSO Chorus  

CBSO Youth Chorus  

CBSO Children’s Chorus  

Birmingham University Singers

Birmingham University Women’s Choir

Jubilate in C  3’

Six Metamorphoses after Ovid  12’

3 Two-Part Songs    7’

Friday Afternoons   20’

Hymn to St Cecilia   10’

Missa Brevis   10’

Prelude & Fugue on a Theme of Vittoria   5’

Rejoice in the Lamb 16′

“Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions to all musicians, appear and inspire.”   Britten’s originality never blazed more brightly than when it was most firmly   rooted in the English choral tradition. As the Orchestra tours to Japan, 100   years to the day since Britten’s birth, Simon Halsey directs the CBSO’s world-famous   choruses in some of Britten’s most striking choral inspirations – all interspersed   with his magical Six Metamorphoses for solo oboe. A universe in a grain   of sand: music to leave audiences stirred, beguiled and thoroughly entertained.

Due to the popularity of the Birmingham Christmas Market please allow ample time for your journey to Symphony Hall.

A taste of the CBSO’s celebrations of Britten in his centenary year

Britten 100

.

“Chorus of approval for CBSO stalwart    

Simon Halsey is celebrating 30 years as CBSO chorus director and an induction into the Hall of Fame.”

Birmingham Post Article by Roz Laws here.

.

.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Now, in this all-Britten programme, the many choirs Simon has inaugurated under the auspices of the CBSO Chorus (the Youth Chorus, the Children’s Chorus – as well as the Birmingham University Singers and University Women’s Choir) delivered a brilliantly-arranged sequence of the composer’s choral music.

Projection, diction and disciplined responsiveness are perennial watchwords illuminating the performances of all these ensembles, and Halsey calls on these factors with such relaxed, expressive direction. And throughout, all the excellent soloists were drawn from the ranks of the various choirs. What a heartwarming triumph for all concerned.”  

*****

Friday Night Classics: Classics at the Movies

Friday 1 November 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal  conductor

Claire Rutter  soprano

Barry Norman  presenter

Including music from:   Verdi: The Force of Destiny (Jean de Florette)

Catalani: Ebben? Ne andrò lontana (Diva)

Puccini: O mio babbino caro (A Room with a View)

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake (Black Swan & Billy Elliot)

Barber: Adagio for Strings (Platoon & The Elephant Man)

Herrmann: Salaambo’s Aria (Citizen Kane)

Sibelius: Finlandia (Die Hard 2)

Wagner: The Ride of the Valkyries (Apocalypse Now)

Korngold: Glück das mir verblieb (The Big Lebowski)

Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro (Trading Places)

Strauss: Blue Danube Waltz (2001: A Space Odyssey)

Britten: Playful Pizzicato (Moonrise Kingdom)

Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana (Raging Bull)

Puccini: Madam Butterfly (Fatal Attraction)

Saint-Saëns: Organ Symphony (Babe)

Encore: Rossini: William Tell Overture

You know that moment at the cinema when   you realise that you’ve heard that tune before – but you can’t quite put your   finger on it? Well, tonight, movie legend Barry Norman reveals all, in the sensational   3D-sound of the CBSO. You might think of the music of Sibelius, Puccini and   Barber as the soundtracks to Die Hard, Fatal Attraction and Platoon   – but it sounds even better when you hear it for real! www.cbso.co.uk