The Seven Ages of Shakespeare

Wednesday 1st June, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • 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.


Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “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.”


Review by Ruth Horsburgh, Redbrick.Me:

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…      “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’.”     …