Space Discovery

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Friday 5th August, 2016, 7:30pm

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

Edward Gardner conductor
CBSO Youth Chorus

Iris ter Schiphorst     Gravitational Waves (new work)
R. Strauss                      Also sprach Zarathustra
Holst                                The Planets
including
Colin Matthews        
Pluto, the Renewer

£5 under 25s offer in association with Classic FM (only available at Symphony Hall, Birmingham)

Open your ears to the music of the universe as the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers embarks on a voyage back through a century of space discovery.

The journey begins with Gravitational Waves by German composer Iris ter Schiphorst. This is music for the here and now, for the beginning of a new era in astronomy. Fasten your seat belts and prepare for a thrilling ride to new musical frontiers as the original sound of the gravitational wave echoes through the orchestra and individual players gradually become one united force.

Next are two of classical music’s must-hear pieces: Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, with its glorious, spine-tingling opening fanfare made famous by Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Holst’s The Planets completed by Colin Matthews’ Pluto:The Renewer. This music never fails to stir the emotions with its huge melodies and luscious harmonies and in the hands of these young musicians, it will fizz with an explosive, barely containable energy.

The countdown is on – join us for a fearless, totally teenage cosmic adventure.

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian: (for same programme at Snape Maltings 4th August)

Click here for full review

…      “Growing out of mystic Neptune’s dying notes – sung by the girls of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra youth choir – the feeling here was of an implicit and organic connection with the original suite. Moreover, the shimmering solar winds of Pluto took the ear back, orbit completed, to the work specially commissioned to launch the evening.

Iris ter Schiphorst’s Gravitational Waves was inspired by new scientific research validating Einstein, and it summoned a novel and symbolic mix of visual, aural and vocal gestures. The synchrony, whereby the players first wore white or black masks, then embodied the waves of the title in perfectly choreographed movements rippling through the serried ranks, created an arresting counterpoint to the imaginative, otherwordly soundscape realised by Ter Schiphorst and co-composer Uros Rojko. Evanescent and evocative, embracing known and unknown, it captured something of the awesome history and infinity of time.”

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Review by Penny Homer, BachTrack: (for same programme, BBC Prom 29, 6th August)

Click here for full review

…     “More impressive, however, was their handling of the outer planets, whose mature themes might have been beyond such young players. Not so; Saturn, the bringer of Old Age proved the best of all the movements. From its haunting start, the slow march towards death felt visceral and personal – I felt the weight of each passing second. Jupiter was also excellent; driving forward to what we now know as I Vow To Thee My Country, full of warmth and power. Uranus is the movement that I have in the past struggled to recall its identity – no more after the freshness brought to it here, its rousing climax quickly contrasted with a taut subito p to end. Neptune showed that the delicacy lacking in Venus was not beyond the orchestra, and was utterly transfixing. This delicacy extended to the balance with the off-stage voices of the CBSO Youth Chorus, giving them enough space to emerge. For such a seemingly small involvement, Neptune is a surprisingly tough ask for the voices, coming in high and quiet after a long period of silence. These difficulties weren’t quite surmounted and at times the tuning was a little unsettled, but the fade out was perfectly judged.

In his programme note for Pluto, the Renewer, Colin Matthews remarks that its dedicatee, Holst’s daughter Imogen, “would have been both amused and dismayed by this venture”. It was probably a sentiment that continues to be shared by many – after the beautiful fade out of Neptune, what could possibly come next? And yet if such a venture had to be undertaken, thankfully it was done in great style, breaking out before Neptune had fully died way. For the most part Matthews provided a thorough re-working of all the ideas in each movement while never veering into pastiche. The only awkward moments were the Mars motives, which jarred, although the orchestra attacked it all gamely, and the CBSO Youth Chorus voices were more confident with their involvement here. An interesting exercise, and fortunately not one detracting from Holst’s vision, or the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain’s brilliance. I expect bright futures for many of them.”

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Review by Brian Barford, ClassicalSource: (for same programme, BBC Prom 29, 6th August)

Click here for full review

…     “Iris ter Schiphorst’s Gravitational Waves is prompted by the recent detection of emissions set in motion over a billion years ago by the collision of two black holes. Schiphorst uses sounds from the scientific project heard through a sampler and reflected in the orchestra as well as a broadcast narrative. The soaring brass, scurrying strings and metallic percussion offer a sense of infinity. There is also a strong sense of visual performance, for the musicians don masks, sway in unison, make vocal interjections, and at the end raise their arms in a gesture of hope for the future. It proved an arresting piece to see and one imagines it was enjoyable to present.

Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra is a problematic work to bring off convincingly. The Nietzsche element can be unattractive although one should remember that Strauss subverts the text at the conclusion where nature not metaphysical inspiration has the last word and the piece ends with a question mark. Also, following the now-famous ‘2001’ opening Zarathustra is a free-form fantasia that can seem meandering.

Gardner and the NYO welded all of the sections into a convincing whole. The horizon-searching opening was delivered in ringing style, underpinned by the Royal Albert Hall organ at its most sonorous. The music for solo strings was played with feeling and the players made up for what they may have lacked in opulence with real ardour and intensity. There were thrusting horns in the “expression of joys and passions”. The Viennese waltz was elegant with a fine violin solo from Millie Ashton and the Midnight Bell episode was given a tremendous dark intensity and the eerily ambiguous close beautifully rendered. Overall, this was a well-paced account delivered with thrilling virtuosity.”     …

 

 

 

 

Mahler’s Tenth

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 31st March, 2016 – 7:30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Webern Six Pieces Op. 6 (chamber version)
    Brahms Four Songs for Women’s Voices,
    Op. 17
    Mahler Symphony No. 10
    (completed by Deryck Cooke)

Mahler never quite finished his Tenth Symphony, but when musicologist Deryck Cooke finally pieced together the sketches, he uncovered a lost masterpiece – in which cries of love and cries of pain finally resolve in music of shattering honesty and piercing beauty. Nicholas Collon uncovers its secrets tonight, and sets it alongside miniatures from Brahms and Webern – each one a tiny, concentrated world of poetry and emotion.

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Available on iPlayer BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert here until 30th April 2016

Support the CBSO – Become a Friend or Patron

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And so to the Mahler, a work which perhaps would never have been written had the dying composer not realised his wife was having an affair with the next creative artist in her collection. It is maudlin, self-repeating from previous works, but also has a visionary quality which begs the listener’s forgiveness.

Collon allowed the music to make all its own points, as Mahler would have intended. He drew a wondrously rich string tone, summoned the brass to awesomely terrifying outbursts, and presided over a myriad of vital instrumental solos.

Chief among these must come the many contributions of concertmaster Zoe Beyers, and, too, the lengthy flute solo in the finale from Marie-Christine Zupancic. We have heard all such things earlier in Mahler’s authentic symphonic output, but this does not detract from how valid they sounded within this context.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “There was a real authority about the CBSO’s playing under Collon, the sense of an orchestra continuing to explore a work it knows inside out. Beyond the English Midlands, Cooke’s score may not have quite secured the place in the canon it deserves. No other completion of the 10th I’ve heard seems anything like as convincing, so true to the world of late Mahler as what Cooke, with the assistance of Berthold Goldschmidt and Colin and David Matthews, produced. This performance was a reminder of how important a musical document it is.

Occasionally, the account was perhaps a little glib. Both scherzos have more menace in them than Collon suggested, and parts of the huge first movement seemed doggedly persistent rather than genuinely aspirational. But from its crepuscular opening onwards he caught the mood of the finale perfectly, right through to the radiance of the coda, when the strings return to the untroubled world of the Fifth Symphony’s adagietto.”

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “In the first scherzo Mahler constantly changes the time signature, giving the music a very unstable feel. Here the playing of the CBSO was incisive and displayed no little brilliance.  Collon handled the Ländler-like trio very well, using rubato very skilfully so that the music sounded very idiomatic. When the scherzo material reappeared he drove the movement to an exciting conclusion.

The short third movement, entitled ‘Purgatorio’ is a strange piece of writing. As I listened to the performance it seemed to me that the music offers echoes of the Seventh Symphony. Collon showed a fine feeling for Mahlerian style and he brought out the colours in the orchestration very vividly.

He took the second scherzo attacca. (In effect, since the finale also follows without a break, this meant that we heard the three movements that constitute Part II of the symphony as an unbroken span.) In some ways this fourth movement sounds to me the most Mahlerian of all – I’m thinking especially of the middle three symphonies and the Ninth. Here passages that require – and were given – real bite alternate with warm, sentimental music. The mood and colours of the music seems to be constantly changing – the former the responsibility of Mahler, the latter the product of Mahler’s invention as realised by Cooke’s orchestration. The CBSO played the movement with great virtuosity. The hushed coda, dominated by the percussion, was spookily effective.

If the end of the fourth movement was spooky then the beginning of the long finale was positively eerie; the dull bass drum thuds and doleful tuba distilled an atmosphere as baleful as even the start of the finale of the Sixth. And then, out of the darkness emerged the wonderfully tender flute melody, cushioned by soft violas and cellos. As voiced by the CBSO’s principal, Marie-Christine Zupancic, the melody was fragile yet soothing. Had Mahler’s sketches been left to gather dust we should have been deprived of this, arguably his most heart-stopping melody; what a loss that would have been. The consoling melody was then taken up and developed most beautifully by the violins. The paragraphs that followed were shaped with intensity and understanding by Collon and the CBSO responded to his leadership with wonderfully glowing playing.  Later, in the faster episodes there was urgency and bite from the orchestra but it’s for the heart-easing lyrical passages that I will long remember this performance.  The last few minutes of the movement seem suffused by acceptance and, perhaps, by a recollection of temps perdu. Collon conducted these closing pages with fine yet controlled intensity and was rewarded with luminous playing, especially from the strings and golden-toned horns. One last anguished outcry and then the symphony ends in tranquillity.

As I said earlier, many distinguished Mahler conductors have resisted performing this performing version by Deryck Cooke – or, indeed, the various versions by other hands. With all due deference, I have to say I think they are wrong. Cooke never made any pretence that what he had done was to “complete” Mahler’s score. Using highly informed conjecture and great musicianship he and his colleagues gave us a way – not the way – to hear the music that Mahler had composed. If we ignore the Tenth we surely have an incomplete picture of Mahler in his last years. If we embrace it, however, we expand and enrich our understanding of one of the twentieth century’s most important and influential symphonists. This evening’s very fine performance demonstrated very clearly how rewarding an experience Mahler’s Tenth can be.

I left Symphony Hall full of admiration for the performance by Nicholas Collon and the CBSO. But above all I left full of gratitude to Deryck Cooke and his three collaborators. Through their dedicated work our Mahler horizon was expanded significantly.”

 

 

Serenade to Music

Thursday 21st January, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Grainger  In a Nutshell, 20′
  • Vaughan Williams  Serenade to Music †, 14′
  • Varese  Ionisation, 8′
  • Judith Weir Storm †, 18′
  • Grainger  The Warriors , 20′

Imagine warriors of all times and all lands, gathering in one place to drink and dance; imagine jazz breaks, three pianos, and a super-sized orchestra… and you’re starting to get some idea of Percy Grainger’s jaw-dropping The Warriors. Add Vaughan Williams’ ravishing, Shakespeare-inspired Serenade, 16 brilliant young soloists, a spirited showcase for the CBSO’s world-beating young choruses and a “Gum-Suckers’ March”, and…well, what can we say? You’ve simply got to hear it!

Available on BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert here for a month

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And because of these forces we had a remarkable bonus, Edgard Varese’s Ionisation for 13 percussionists and piano, crisply, precisely directed by Seal, and beautifully phrased and coloured by the players.

By contrast, a tiny instrumental ensemble (including many of the flute family) accompanied the expert CBSO Youth and Children’s Choruses in a revival of Judith Weir’s Storm, keenly imagined and with a lovely serene ending. Under Simon Halsey the youngsters sang with confident projection and brilliant diction, and all from memory, to the delight of the composer, interviewed engagingly onstage, like the two conductors, by presenter Tom Redmond.

The texts came from The Tempest, this performance a contribution to the CBSO’s Shakespeare quatercentenary thread. And particularly heartwarming was the presentation of one of the most beautiful Shakespearean works ever penned, Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.

This setting of the Belmont Scene from Act V of The Merchant of Venice requires 16 solo singers, and for its premiere celebrating Sir Henry Wood’s Golden Jubilee as a conductor in 1938, the composer specified 16 named soloists at the top of the professional tree.

Here Simon Halsey presented 16 students from Conservatoires UK-wide, and what a wonderful sound they created, both in their individual contributions and in their melding together as a choral group.”     …

New CBSO CD

Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Volume 4 is out NOW!

Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Vol. 4

Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 with Jennifer Pike (violin)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – incidental music, Op. 61 with

Rhian Lois (soprano I), Keri Fuge (soprano II)

CBSO Youth Chorus

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Click here to buy online (all volumes available here)

Or visit the Symphony Hall Gift shop

Andris Nelsons’ Farewell Concerts

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 18th June, 7.30pm

Programme

  • Ešenvalds Lakes Awake at Dawn, 13′
  • Mahler Symphony No. 3, 92′

All good things come to an end. And on what are sure to be emotional evenings, Andris Nelsons has chosen to say farewell to Birmingham with Mahler’s huge, rapturous hymn to nature – both unchanging, and forever renewing. A beautiful new choral work by Andris’s fellow-Latvian Eriks Ešenvalds – jointly commissioned (thanks to support from the Feeney Trust) with Andris’s new orchestra in Boston – brings our orchestra, choruses, audience and conductor together to celebrate seven inspirational years.
Share your memories of Andris’ time with the CBSO
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Support the CBSO
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Andris Nelsons says Birmingham must keep loving the CBSO.

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Farewell Andris – CBSO Gallery, video, etc

Storify here

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:
Click here for full review
…   

     “Lakes Awake at Dawn is scored for SATB choir and a large orchestra and in this performance played for about 10 minutes. In it Ešenvalds sets some lines by the Latvian poet, Inge Ābele in an English translation to which the composer has appended some words of his own, also in English. The score plays continuously but has two clearly defined sections. In the first, the Ābele setting, the music is tense and powerful, depicting, to paraphrase the composer’s own description, “one’s emotional unrest, anxiety, and physical running away from danger at night in a forest.” Nelsons inspired his combined forces to project this music very strongly, creating a potent atmosphere. Ešenvalds’ own words depict the arrival at the consoling safety of a lake. Here the music becomes hymn-like. The writing for both choir and orchestra has great beauty and is initially tranquil though it gradually builds to a majestic climax, retreating thereafter to a soft consonant orchestral conclusion. The piece has great impact – especially in such a committed performance as this one – and its enthusiastic reception by the audience clearly delighted the composer, who was present. […]

[…]

The concluding Adagio opened with wonderfully rapt playing from the CBSO strings; you sensed they were on their collective mettle, determined to deliver one last time for Nelsons – and they did. Nelsons paced the music broadly and generously but though the tempo was expansive there was always a sense that the music was moving forward with purpose: there was a goal in sight. Throughout this movement the orchestra were at the top of their game. Impressive dynamic contrasts were a telling feature of the reading. In the last few minutes there was a true sense that Nelsons was leading his forces to the summit; certainly he drew every last ounce of commitment from the orchestra. He surely knew that the last great D major chord would be followed by an immediate ovation but Nelsons held the moment, his arms aloft, so that no applause intruded until the music had reverberated around the hall and properly died away. Only then did he lower his arms.[…]

[…]

During a prolonged standing ovation Nelsons plunged into the ranks of the orchestra; it seemed as if he shook hands with or hugged most of the players on the platform. After several minutes he gave a disarming short farewell speech in which, typically, he stressed two themes: the CBSO family, including its audience, and a strong plea to the people of Birmingham to cherish their orchestra. And so with this unforgettable performance the Nelsons era came to an end, though it’s not quite the end for he and the orchestra and the CBSO Chorus have one last outing together: Beethoven’s Ninth at the BBC Proms on 19 July. He will be back in Birmingham, I’m sure, as an honoured guest, but for now, with his successor still to be chosen, he leaves big shoes to fill.”     …

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Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:
Click here for full review
…       “Ešenwald’s composition was commissioned by both the CBSO and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Nelson’s new home. It was fitting that the great Latvian conductor should have used the opportunity to promote the music of one of Latvia’s best contemporary composers in this UK première. The CBSO Chorus clearly relished the work, projecting their magnificent sound throughout the hall with enthusiasm and diction that made the most of the counterpoints and rhythms. Although a number of the lines from the text were repeated, it was never repetitive thanks to the imaginative and colourful orchestration. At various points I could hear the sound of gulls on the lake coming from the violins, the waters of the lake rippling in sync with Nelsons’ elongated fingers, and the sun finally breaching the horizon to a percussive technique that looked from afar like a string bow being drawn across a xylophone block. Yet this was not ‘experimental’ music, but a mature and innovative composition in its portrayal of both imagery and narrative. I have heard some of Ešenwald’s work before on recording and I have been impressed. Its impact in concert is manifold, and I shall be seeking opportunities to hear his work again. (sic) […]
[…]     

Highlights from the other movements were aplenty. The changes of mood in the third movement were brilliantly executed, with the offstage flugelhorn exquisitely lyrical. Mezzo-soprano Michaela Schuster’s performance was perfectly measured and supported by some mellifluous French horn playing. The CBSO Youth and Children’s Choruses were enchanting in the fifth movement, maintaining good balance with the adult chorus and bringing joyous light relief after the profundity of the fourth movement. In the final movement Nelsons, who had conducted with passion and energy throughout and sometimes jumping on the spot, seemed to get renewed strength and there was a palpable response from the musicians as the finale built to its emphatic conclusion.As Nelsons cut the final thunderous chord his arms remained aloft, motionless and statuesque. Two thousand two hundred lungs simultaneously suspended their breath. Not until the sound had completely faded away after a prolonged pause did he move. Only then did the audience exhale, rising spontaneously as one in a standing ovation that went well past the point of hand hurting.

 

So, what is it that Nelsons has with the CBSO that they find so difficult to replace? Personal chemistry. Despite the risks, the CBSO is right to hold out until they find such chemistry again before appointing Nelsons’ successor.”    

*****

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 Review by Fiona Maddocks:

Click here for full review

…     “A hundred minutes is a long time to be on the edge of your seat, but Nelsons kept us there throughout this epic hymn to man and nature.

During his time in Birmingham he has made his mark with resplendent Wagner and Strauss, electrifying Beethoven and a shoal of world premieres and recordings. The orchestra, trained for 18 years by Simon Rattle and for a decade by Sakari Oramo, was already on fine form. With Nelsons they have discovered a new freedom of expression. This reflects the qualities of this warm-hearted musician from Riga, not yet 40, who encountered his first opera – Tannhäuser – aged five, cried when the hero died, and decided to become a conductor.

Nelsons working his way round the entire CBSO to say his goodbyes.

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Nelsons working his way round the entire CBSO to say his goodbyes. Photograph: Neil Pugh

The Ešenvalds work, Lakes Awake at Dawn, recalls a dark event in Latvian history – June 1940 – when a mass Soviet deportation to Siberia forced thousands to flee their homes and spend a fearful night in the forest. After an explosive start, the work achieves a radiant calm as dawn arrives. The writing is tonal and ecstatic, immediate in impact rather than radical. Commissioned both by the CBSO and Boston, where it was premiered last year, it was a thoughtful prelude to the Mahler, troubling more for its subject matter than its harmonies.

Nelsons has always shaped every phrase and nuance – unlike, say, Barenboim, who sometimes drops his arms altogether and leaves his players to get on with it. Edging towards the precipice with his fascination for detail, Nelsons somehow always holds the work secure and intact. This was true in the half-hour-long first movement of the Mahler. Colours and effects stood out as if for the first time – the burbling bassoons, the military wind-band mood of the high E flat clarinets. (“Yes, Mr Mahler has E flat clarinets on the brain,” sniped a Viennese critic, one of many who questioned the composer’s sanity when the work was new.)

Watch the CBSO’s farewell video.

Using a full avian repertoire of gestures, Nelsons shifts from gawky wet crow to elegant flamingo to shrinking sparrow to, in the limitless melody of the final movement, a giant kite gliding freely in space. His players, never knowing what might happen next, are ever alert. Check out the CBSO’s tribute video, and see him waggle his hands behind his ears to conjure a brass trill. Boston will enjoy him, if they can keep him.”     …

*****

Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Saturday 18th April 2015 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor

Cédric Tiberghien  piano

CBSO Youth Chorus  

Mendelssohn: The Fair Melusina Overture 10′

Mendelssohn: String Symphony No.10 in B minor 12′

Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1 20′ Listen on Spotify

Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – incidental music 45′

Listen on Spotify

Cédric Tiberghien‘s encore – Bach/Siloti – Prelude in B Minor

Edward Gardner’s Mendelssohn symphony cycle was one of the real delights of last season in Birmingham. Now he teams up again with our famous Youth Chorus in its 20th anniversary year in Mendelssohn’s magical homage to Shakespeare: fairies, donkeys and that Wedding March! And we’re delighted to welcome the award-winning Cédric Tiberghien to sprinkle a different kind of magic over Mendelssohn’s sparkling First Piano Concerto.

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Review by Christopher Morley (for matinee performance of same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “This week it was the turn of the miraculous Midsummer Night’s Dream incidental music, Gardner and orchestra responding gratefully to its infinite delights. Warm horns, elfin flutes (how did Marie-Christine Zupancic manage to deliver the end of the scherzo without apparently breathing?), James Sibley’s supportive tuba sturdily placed next to the bassoons, the aplomb of Andrew Herbert’s cymbals in the Wedding March, the sheer versatility of the strings, all contributed riches to this amazing score.

As did the young ladies of the CBSO Youth Chorus in that astonishing group’s 20th anniversary year, singing so clearly and articulately after Julian Wilkins’ coaching, and contributing three soloists performing with such poise and confidence, and who really should have been named in the programme.

Earlier we had relished a refreshing Fair Melusine overture and marvelled at the terse Storm and Stress of the B minor String Symphony no.10, neatly phrased and accented under Gardner.

And, above all, a bustling account of the remarkable First Piano Concerto from Cedric Tiberghien, his busy pianism encompassing both stormy rumblings and sweet domesticism,”     …

MacMillan’s St Luke Passion

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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.

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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.”

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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.”     …

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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.”     …