Andris Nelsons Conducts Bruckner

Thursday 12th January, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Maxwell Davies Trumpet Concerto, 28′
  • Bruckner Symphony No. 4 (Romantic), 64′

The air seems to shimmer, and a horn calls softly in the mist. The loveliest opening to any symphony ever? Decide for yourself as Andris Nelsons unfolds the glowing peaks and sweeping vistas of Bruckner’s Romantic symphony – and sets it against the windswept seascapes of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Trumpet Concerto, played by one of the world’s greatest living trumpeters. Nelsons’s first concert in Birmingham since 2015 is certain to be a highlight of our season.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Hardenberger’s contribution scuttered with tripping articulation and sang with generous phrasing, and Nelsons (let’s not forget he began as a trumpeter) breathed as one with his soloist.

If this offering was a revelation, the performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony which followed was a glorious affirmation of Nelsons’ stature as a conductor of this Wagner-revering composer.

We were made subconsciously aware of the huge arc of the work’s architecture, from the shimmering opening (and Elspeth Dutch’s evocative and immaculate horn solo) right to the very ending, almost rainbow-bridge in its grandeur, and with Nelsons achieving a cut-off which left us stunned in midair.

Along the way there was so much to admire: the empathetic interweaving of Dutch and Marie-Christine Zupancic’s flute; the magisterial timpanism of another returnee, Peter Hill; Nelsons’ firm grip over the score’s characteristic two+three rhythms; the sturdy brass chorales (trumpeter Alan Thomas yet another welcome returnee).

There was a huge emotional release at the end, from audience, players, and from Andris Nelsons himself, whose gestures and body-language signified so much joy at being back in what had once been his “home”.”

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Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “But he can still charge a melody with meaning, whether powering through a rainshower of bells, grinding against the altogether more menacing sheen of the CBSO’s trumpet section, or chanting a muted prayer amidst keening violins in Maxwell Davies’s central vision of St Francis preaching to a wheeling flock of Orcadian gulls and skuas.

If that was something of a surprise success, there was every reason to expect a lot from Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, the “Romantic”. Nelsons’s credentials in Wagner might be presumed to give him a headstart in Bruckner, and in the Alpine clarity of Symphony Hall’s acoustic (sorry, London) it’s possible to create a truly colossal range of dynamics. No fear: Nelsons’s grasp of Bruckner’s symphonic architecture is too sophisticated for such cheap wins. With a modest, precise-looking beat he let the music stride forward in eloquent, articulate paragraphs, allowing incidental motifs and twists of harmony to find their own space, and pointedly declining to overemphasise the first movement’s more spectacular geographical features. It felt almost classical.

this performance of a Bruckner symphony was still, remarkably, a kind of chamber music The Andante evoked Schumann in its inwardness and warmth: Nelsons has the ability to create forward momentum amid a feeling that there’s all the time in the world. He tied the tempi of the scherzo’s slower passages back to the earlier movements, and only with the first climax of the finale did he finally unleash the full power and scale of sound that this orchestra can create in this hall – an overwhelming moment of arrival. From that point on, not even Nelsons could bring absolute coherence to Bruckner’s stop-start ramble of a finale, but the journey towards those mighty final chords was certainly beautiful. Rich string textures built from the basses up, luminous woodwinds and cellos and violas that can sing – really sing – the heart out of Bruckner’s yearning second groups: we’ve come to expect all this when Nelsons conducts the CBSO. The honeymoon never really ended between this band and this conductor. On this showing they’re still rather more than just good friends.”     …

Bruckner’s Ninth

Wednesday 13th April, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Mozart  Clarinet Concerto, 28′
  • Bruckner  Symphony No. 9, 59′

Bruckner’s Ninth has been called a “cathedral in sound” – and no question, it’s got majesty to spare. But that’s just the surface: this is nothing less than one man’s final struggle to find peace, told in music of shattering power and beauty. There’s more to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto than just gorgeous melodies, too – and if any soloist can get to its heart, it’s Michael Collins. Soul music, Austrian-style.

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Review by Richard Ely, BachTrack:

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…     Their cause was aided greatly in the Mozart by soloist Michael Collins‘ choice of the basset clarinet, for which the concerto was written, in preference to the smoother tones of the modern instrument. This gave the solo part an arresting edge which contrasted with the hushed orchestral accompaniment – reined back almost to a whisper during the Andante –and served equally well in the more extrovert outer movements: the gallop of the finale was especially piquant. Collins, genial and earthy next to Feddeck’s more ascetic presence on the podium, proved himself a stalwart advocate for the piece, as powerful when playing in concert with the orchestra as in his spotlit solo role.  This was a performance as alert and life-enhancing as anyone could wish for: the bear traps of blandness were sidestepped with agility.  […]

[…]     Along the way, much orchestral detail was revealed that too many performances overlook. Feddeck downplayed the bombast of the Scherzo, which became less the aural depiction of hell some interpreters like to make it and more of a long march over rough terrain, with a rest break (the trio) in the middle.  The contrasting music of the trio, with its disturbing and otherwise un-Brucknerian sensuality was vividly characterised by the strings in combination with the woodwind.  Although I’ve heard far weightier accounts of this movement, Feddeck’s approach worked through its combination of toughness and ethereality.  

The final Adagio showed conductor and orchestra at their finest. Most  impressive was the solo violins’ harrowing depiction of the ‘cry of anguish’ at the start of the movement. Aside from some scrappy ensemble between the horns and the Wagner tubas, the balance between the different sections was impeccable and there was an almost Viennese lilt to the strings. There was no sense of incompleteness in this performance as  Feddeck and his forces brought the piece home in a blaze of sound that shook Symphony Hall to tis foundations.  ”     …

Nelsons Conducts Bruckner

Håkan Hardenberger & Andris Nelsons

Sunday 6th Dec 2015, 7.30pm
Royal Festival Hall, London

Philharmonia Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor

Håkan Hardenberger trumpet

Zimmermann, Trumpet Concerto Nobody Knows De Trouble I See

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Bruckner, Symphony No. 8 biography | programme note

Bruckner’s awe-inspiring Eighth Symphony, a veritable cathedral of sound, is conducted here by Andris Nelsons, the recently appointed Principal Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the first half of the concert, soloist Håkan Hardenberger opens his series The Trumpet Shall Sound with a performance of Bern Alois Zimmermann’s jazz-inspired trumpet concerto.

This concert is part of the The Trumpet Shall Sound series

Håkan Hardenberger & Andris Nelsons in Conversation and Rehearsal

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Review by Chris Garlick, BachTrack:

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…     “He was particularly effective in the first movement, which must rank very highly in the pantheon of great first movements, where the inevitability of the progression towards the final apocalyptic climax was breathtaking. The orchestral sound here and throughout the performance, had just the right mix of weight, lushness and transparency. Only occasionally was the balance slightly awry, not allowing some of the telling woodwind solos their room to breathe. The tempo of the Scherzo was spot on, enabling the main sections to have a unique rhythmic heft. The trios weren’t allowed to linger, with a constant sense of the inevitable return of the Scherzo.

It was in the Adagio that Nelsons’ passionate approach to the writing bore most fruit. The three glorious main themes of the movement were beautifully presented, with the strings supported by a lustrous carpet of brass. As these themes are developed over the rest of the movement and Bruckner is at his most remarkable when he is developing his material, the impetus created was spectacular, culminating in the glorious E flat major climax.

The finale set off at a fastish pace, with the fanfares of the main theme sounding as they should – heroic, but still on the edge of the abyss. As in many Bruckner finales, the constraints of sonata form can seem to hold the composer back from achieving the character of the music he wants to create. To an almost irrelevant degree this is the case in the Eighth Symphony and finding a way through this poses particular interpretative problems for all conductors. Nelsons again navigated with an immediacy that was impressive, but his grading of the climaxes was not as sure-footed as in the Adagio. The development of the main material is so overwhelming here, with climax after climax trying to find a way out of the labyrinth, that only in the coda is the destination point of C major reached and the final joyous conflagration is allowed to wash away all the doubts and fears. Achieving the full impact of these final bars has proved to be a massive challenge to the most experienced conductors and to his credit, Nelsons was nearly there.”

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Review by Barry Millington, Evening Standard:

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“Some of the finest interpreters of Bruckner — Bernard Haitink and Günter Wand come most readily to mind — have been those who take an Olympian view, towering above the fray. That’s not the way of Andris Nelsons, who likes to dig deep into the entrails of the work, revealing its nerves and sinews. In his account of the Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Nelsons came closest to this Mahlerian aspect of the music in the deeply felt Adagio.

He has a way of highlighting detail within the texture yet also succeeds in marshalling individual paragraphs into the broader structure. Nor was there any shortage of firepower: the heavy artillery of trumpets, trombones and tuba (not to mention horns and Wagner tubas) was unleashed to crushing effect. By the time the apocalyptic final bars were reached, the Philharmonia players, who drove themselves to the limits demanded by Nelsons, looked as shell-shocked as we felt. Quite overwhelming: not simply in the volume of sound but in the nervous energy expended.”     …

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Review by Martin Kettle, Guardian:

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…     “Nelsons is a classic podium fidget, visibly and audibly attentive to phrasing and dynamics. In the abstract, this detailed way of doing things might seem too exhausting for Bruckner’s 70-minute span. Yet Nelsons has a sense of architecture, too. His changes of pace felt idiomatic, always part of the larger picture, and he gets the obsessive, uncertain and unresolved nature of Bruckner’s writing.

The opening movement never lost momentum in spite of some breathtakingly effective quiet playing by the Philharmonia in moments of stillness. The scherzo was admirably lithe rather than bombastic, the trio particularly eloquent. The adagio pushed forward where others always hold back, but the control was unfailing, the playing eloquent and the falling away at the close mesmerising as ever. The finale, quicker than you often hear it, felt rather generalised, the argument sacrificed in favour of effect.

Although Bruckner was the centrepiece, the evening began with a performance by Håkan Hardenberger of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s scintillating 1954 Trumpet Concerto.”     …

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Review by Antony Hodgson, ClassicalSource:

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…     “It was gratifying in this Philharmonia performance to hear carefully-calculated balancing since in Bruckner brass can be over-powerful and often the strings get swamped. Nelsons avoided this and with something left in reserve for the bigger climaxes. Given this grand, carefully integrated sound, Nelsons’s expressive way with Bruckner’s invention was given a firm basis.

The first movement was taken broadly, there was space for eloquent phrasing and the music moved forward in an unhurried manner. Bruckner’s imaginative revision whereby he turned a conventionally triumphant ending to the movement to a quiet one was a stroke of genius and Nelsons allowed the music to flow gently to its poignant close. As the work progressed Nelsons’s personality began to impose itself: the Scherzo started firmly enough but after the announcement of the main themes the lovely countersubject with its close-harmony woodwind lingered unexpectedly. The careful shaping of the section was some compensation but freedom of tempo was also evident in the Trio. The Adagio was even more expressive, it was also very beautiful, full of beguiling phrasing, ample recompense for the lingering. By the Finale Nelsons had ceased to use his baton and after the initial onslaught this assisted him in caressing shaping that was more expressive still.

The last movement is somewhat episodic and from the moment the slower second subject arrived and was taken very broadly it seemed that attention to sections was overcoming forward motion – full marks for great sensitivity but here, even more than in the Adagio, there was a sense of indulgence. By giving loving and detailed attention to every phrase the music sometimes came across as languorous; however the vividness of the climaxes and in particular the radiance of the final pages ensured that a sense of triumph was achieved.”

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Review by Alan Sanders, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “There isn’t a dull moment in its single movement. It teems with solo brilliance of all kinds, pungent orchestral timbres and tremendous rhythmic vitality. And it has just the right length. Zimmermann understood the value of brevity in a composition of this kind.

Andris Nelsons’ approach to the Bruckner symphony’s first movement had initially almost a feeling of exploration. The opening statements were presented calmly and straightforwardly at an easy-going tempo. But as the movement progressed so did the conductor’s use of phrase and inflection become more pronounced, very effectively so, since he did not allow any pulse variations to disturb a strong onward momentum or his overall control of the large-scale structure. The contemplative ending was beautifully managed and rounded off a most satisfying account of the movement as a whole.

Nelsons adopted a middle-of-the road tempo for the Scherzo. Some conductors feel the need to jolly things up in this movement to form a contrast with the slower moving structures that flank it. Here the rhythm was pointed clearly yet there was no feeling of haste. And the contrasts implicit in the trio sections were tellingly brought out with some lovely turns of phrase.

The enormous span of the Symphony’s third movement – usually over 25 minutes in length – and its Adagio tempo present a conductor with a great interpretative challenge. This was met by Nelsons with great skill, yet with great sensitivity. Each episode was strongly characterised with heart-easing warmth of expression, but as in the first movement one always had the feeling that inexorable and logical progress throughout the mighty structure was taking place.

At the outset of the finale Nelsons brought out very clearly Bruckner’s curious but masterly effect of the music having two tempi: a throbbing rhythmic ostinato underpinning a slow brass chorale. Again he showed great skill in pacing the movement’s strongly contrasting elements, and the final climax was overwhelming. One truly had the feeling of having been through a profound symphonic experience.”

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Review by Gavin Dixon, TheArtsDesk:

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“Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Nobody knows de trouble I see is a popular concerto, but it’s an unlikely hit. Zimmermann maintains a distanced relationship with the spiritual on which the work is based, and, while there are jazz elements too, this is a long way from crossover. Zimmermann maintains his modernist/serialist perspective throughout, and all the jazz ideas – the trombone glissandos, the sax section replacing the French horns, the vaguely improvisatory trumpet writing – are configured within a strict and austere single-movement structure.

Fortunately, both trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger and conductor Andris Nelsons have the measure of this music, giving a performance that fully acknowledges both the composer’s desire to connect with the radical jazz of the 1950s, and the loyalty to modernist conventions that prevent him from doing so. Hardenberger seemed more constrained than usual, effortlessly virtuosic, but without any flamboyant displays. The work has a pervasively dark mood that Hardenberger conveyed well, especially in the flat, broad tone that he applied. The orchestra is occasionally required to play the big band, with brass outbursts, and even a Hammond organ break at one point. But nothing here ever sounded laidback or casual. This was a performance fully in keeping with the spirit of the music, but what dark and unyielding spirit that is.” …

Camerata Salzburg and Nicola Benedetti play Mozart

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package, SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 and Orchestral Music

Thursday 12th March

Symphony Hall

Camerata Salzburg
Ben Gernon conductor
Nicola Benedetti violin

Schönberg Waltzes for string orchestra 16’
Mozart Violin Concerto No 5, Turkish 31’
Bruckner Adagio from String Quintet in F major, arr for strings 13’
Mozart Symphony No 29 28’

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Following his triumph in the 2013 Salzburg Festival conducting competition, Shropshire-born conductor Ben Gernon brings Camerata Salzburg, one of the world’s greatest chamber orchestras, to Birmingham.

Two of Mozart’s sunniest masterpieces are at the heart of this concert and with the hugely popular Nicola Benedetti as soloist, this promises to be a joyful evening of music.

http://www.THSH.co.uk

Bach and Bruckner

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Wednesday 11th March 2015 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Ilan Volkov  conductor
Ilya Gringolts  violin

Bach: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor 16′
Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 79′

Soul music, Austrian style. Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony has been described as a cathedral in sound, but Bruckner also drew his inspiration from the music of J. S. Bach and the majestic scenery of the Austrian Alps. So the timeless beauty of Bach’s A minor violin concerto – played today by the superb Ilya Gringolts – will make the perfect upbeat.

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Some conductors open the acoustic doors in Symphony Hall as wide as possible in order for Bruckner to create a church-like resonance. Volkov opted for a less opulent sound, and hearing the Fifth launched with such a determined, clear tread in the introduction to the first movement underlined all kinds of symphonic connections, tracing its lineage right back through Schubert, and of course Beethoven, to Haydn. The CBSO’s playing was never plush, but it was always precise and intently responsive. The only one of the four massive movements that seemed a bit unfocused was the scherzo, with its strange, almost supernatural feeling, and it took a while for the sense of completion and closure to arrive in the finale too. But when it did, it was utterly convincing.

When Volkov conducted Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony with the BBC Scottish Orchestra four years ago, he prefaced it with Bach’s A minor Violin Concerto, and he did the same here. Ilya Gringolts was the soloist this time – rather luxury casting for a work that lasts barely 15 minutes, but his playing had enough panache and swagger about it to turn the concerto into a convincing showcase for his virtuosity.”

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Nelsons Conducts Bruckner’s Seventh

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Saturday 29th November 2014 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor
Stephen Hough  piano

Schumann: Piano Concerto 31′ Watch on YouTube

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 (Haas) 68′
Listen on Spotify

Stephen Hough’s encore – Schumann: Träumerei 

Imagine a symphony played by an angel. That’s how Anton Bruckner first dreamed of the blissful opening melody of his Seventh Symphony – and when you hear it, you’ll understand why: this is music that scales sublime heights and heartrending depths. For Andris Nelsons, it’s a labour of love; so he begins by teaming up with the incomparable Stephen Hough in Schumann’s ever-fresh love-poem of a Piano Concerto.

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Review by Ken Ward, BachTrack:

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…     “It had been prepared by a series of woodwind solos, the woodwind also on excellent form, which were enhanced by the decision to fully open the hall’s reverberant chambers for the Bruckner, the slight echo amplifying the characteristic timbre of each instrument, clarinets, oboe and flute.  Nelsons, already beating a very moderate Allegro, had slowed down significantly to allow this passage its full eloquence.

For the first time with this symphony Bruckner makes use of a quartet of Wagner tubas, and it’s always splendid to see the players assemble on stage with these large instruments of glistening gold.  They have the reputation of being a little troublesome to play, but the Birmingham musicians were faultless and glorious to hear. Their big moment is after the Adagio climax where they play a dirge in memory of Wagner himself, who had died whilst Bruckner was composing the symphony, a dirge capped with a blazing outcry from the horns – all of this magnificently accomplished. And they have repeated chorales to embellish the progress of the finale, and these were again beautifully done.

Altogether it was performance with many such highlights, mostly passages where the sheer beauty of the sound and excellence of the playing gripped one’s attention.     […]

[…]    Stephen Hough’s performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto in the first half had been filled with intelligence and vitality, a display of absolute mastery. The balance of piano and orchestra, and the interplay between soloist and members of the orchestra – especially the excellent clarinet playing of Oliver Janes – was a delight to hear. After the meditative Intermezzo, the exuberant finale broke through with refined high-spirits, presenting a bright and joyful spectacle.

Hough closed the first half with a nicely executed Träumerei from Schumann’s Kinderscenen.  Nelsons closed the concert with a little speech in which he thanked the audience for coming, wished them all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and said that he was really glad that so many people came to listen to Bruckner: “sometimes people are afraid, but actually, as you see, it is absolutely magic and absolutely amazing, particularly with this orchestra”.”

Nelsons Conducts Bruckner’s Seventh

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Thursday 27th November 2014 at 2.15pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Stephen Hough  piano

Schumann: Piano Concerto 31′ Watch on YouTube

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 (Haas) 68′
Listen on Spotify

Stephen Hough’s encore  – Chopin: E-Flat Nocturne

Imagine a symphony played by an angel. That’s how Anton Bruckner first dreamed of the blissful opening melody of his Seventh Symphony – and when you hear it, you’ll understand why: this is music that scales sublime heights and heartrending depths. For Andris Nelsons, it’s a labour of love; so he begins by teaming up with the incomparable Stephen Hough in Schumann’s ever-fresh love-poem of a Piano Concerto.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “There was a wonderful sense of release as the opening movement eased into its recapitulation as Nelsons so patiently delineated the music’s architecture, and the extended coda’s dynamics were so well-managed over the tension-building timpani roll.

And out of all the orchestral contributions special mention must be made of Marie-Christine Zupancic’s flute, now fluttering like a dove, now radiant as a halo.

Around her and oboist Rainer Gibbons the woodwind section is rebuilding itself into the strength it once possessed, and it was good to welcome Oliver Janes, the 23-year-old grandson of John Fuest, one-time principal clarinet of the CBSO, into his grandfather’s chair.

The Schumann Piano Concerto could not have been a better choice for his debut in the position, full of poignant dialogue between clarinet and piano, and Janes certainly had a formidable collaborator in Stephen Hough, whose pianism combined authority with spontaneous generosity of phrasing.

Naturally Nelsons and the CBSO accompanied totally in sympathy, and it’s good to know that Hyperion recorded this performance, renewing their award-winning partnership of Hough with the orchestra.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “The doors to the reverberation chamber behind the orchestra had been opened as wide as possible for the performance, and though that didn’t create the kind of cathedral acoustic that permeates so much of Bruckner’s symphonic thinking, it was enough to give a delicate colour to the work’s silences and to extend the effect of its cadences. Generally, though, Nelsons kept things airy and transparent; it was clear from the veiled lightness of the strings at the start that this was not going to be heavyweight, minatory Bruckner, but something much more athletic, direct and texturally interesting. If anything, the rhetoric was underplayed: the close of the first movement was not the brassy triumph some conductors make of it, but more measured and provisional, and even the shattering climax of the slow movement and the reconciliation of the finale kept something in reserve.

In some ways, too, the symphony had been upstaged by Schumann’s Piano Concerto, with Stephen Hough as soloist before it. That had been a performance of such startling freshness and clarity that one of the most familiar of all 19th-century piano concertos seemed totally reimagined, with the sweep and vigour supplied by Nelsons and the orchestra as the perfect foil to Hough’s cool brilliance.”