Italian Symphony

Wednesday 8th June, 2016, 2.15pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

 

Programme

  • Dvořák  Othello, 15′
  • Bruch  Scottish Fantasy , 30′
  • Dvořák  Romance , 13′
  • Mendelssohn  Symphony No. 4 (Italian), 26′

The tumult of Dvorak’s Othello Overture, the enchanting colours of his Romance, a treasure-trove of delightful folk melodies in Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy and, of course, Mendelssohn’s sparkling Italian Symphony. This is music bursting at the seams with passion: join us as Laurence Jackson and the CBSO bring it to life.

.In Memory of Walter Weller (30th November 1939 – 14th June 2015) 

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

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“What a joy to hear Laurence Jackson again. Barely six months after the CBSO’s former concertmaster moved to Australia he was back on his old stamping ground as the soloist in a concert planned long before he left. He may not have the swaggering glitter of some violinists (he’s too sensitive a musician to engage in vulgar histrionics), but his sweetness of tone and effortless technique are qualities many would die for.

Rather than a full-blown concerto we had to be content with Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, a demanding enough substitute technically, if somewhat blighted by its mundane thematic material. No matter: given the intelligence and beauty of Jackson’s playing – and the nuanced handling of the orchestral score under CBSO Assistant Conductor Alpesh Chauhan – most of the work’s mawkish sentimentality was avoided (the duet passage between Jackson and flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic was particularly delightful) while the sparkling scherzo and decorative conclusion held several charms.

And Jackson’s account of Dvořák’s Romance in F minor was delivered with even greater subtlety, matched by a felicitous accompaniment full of scrumptious detail.”     …

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Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

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…     “Chauhan interpreted these brilliantly, allowing the brass and woodwind to suggest the unfolding story while the strings set tone and atmosphere. In doing so he maintained emotive interest from the brooding start to the heroic yet tragic climax.  

Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, Op,46 came next, featuring the concert’s soloist, Laurence Jackson. I was instantly won over by his warm and velvety tone. His phrasing achieved both comfort and tension, and his interpretation was simultaneously intellectual and heartfelt, without the excessive sentimentality too often associated with works such as this. He made his technique look effortless, particularly his fluttering bird-song trills. Importantly, he did not feel the need to thrash the more rhythmical motif of the scherzo, nor force the pomp of the strident warlike motif of the Finale: Allegro Guerriero. His unity with the orchestra was tangible throughout, but two highlights stood out for me. First were some delightfully echoed and paired phrases with the flute. Second was in the finale where I was so transfixed that he was half-way through a cadenza before I became conscious that the orchestra had stopped playing. Chauhan brought them back in with a breath-like string pianissimo before the return to the militaristic motif brought an extremely enjoyable first half to an end.

Dvořák’s Romance in F Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op.11, was the second work in the programme from the Czech composer. In some ways it felt like an encore piece that could have been squeezed into the first half. It was played with a smaller orchestra and had a more intimate feel than the Bruch. It gave Laurence Jackson another opportunity to indulge us, and for that alone I was grateful.”     …

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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…     “Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony (1832) has never left the repertoire since its revival soon after its composer’s death, but it is still a work whose innovation can easily be overlooked. Chauhan certainly had the measure of the Allegro’s unbridled élan, the exposition repeat – with its seamless formal transition – duly (and rightly) observed, and with a tensile energy as carried through the development then on to a coda as clinched the formal design with telling resolve. The Andante’s stark processional was evocatively conveyed at a swift yet never rushed tempo, with the ensuing intermezzo was characterised by heartfelt string playing and deft horns. The Finale then had the necessary contrast, its alternating of saltarello and tarantella rhythms effecting a powerful rhythmic charge that held good to the forceful close.

An engaging concert, then, and an auspicious one for Chauhan, who is evidently a conductor going places (he makes his debut with the LSO in January). This CBSO concert originally to have been directed by Walter Weller, whose death last June robbed the wider musical world of a conductor of unfailing insight across the repertoire. His cycles of Beethoven Symphonies and Piano Concertos (the latter with John Lill) with the CBSO bear witness to his traditional yet never hidebound approach, and this concert was appropriately dedicated to his memory.”

Academy of St Martin in the Fields

with Joshua Bell and Steven Isserlis

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 Concert Package,
SoundBite and Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16

Saturday 9th January

Symphony Hall

Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Joshua Bell violin/direction
Steven Isserlis cello

Dvořák Silent Woods from From the Bohemian Forest Op 68 7’
Beethoven Symphony No 5 31’
Schuman Violin Concerto, mv. II (codetta by Britten)
Brahms Double Concerto 34’

 

The original virtuoso chamber orchestra, with two of the world’s most respected soloists – when Joshua Bell and Steven Isserlis join the Academy of St Martin and the Fields, you’d expect some seriously stylish playing. But from the grandeur of Brahms to Beethoven’s most famous symphony, there’ll be drama too. A stirring programme from some truly exceptional performers.

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Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

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…     “Thankfully the piano stool was absent as the audience returned to their seats for a second half featuring the second movement Langsam of Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor (WoO, codetta by Benjamin Britten), and Johannes Brahms Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor. The first of these two pieces, written immediately before Schumann’s suicide attempt, is rarely performed. Bell did not waste the opportunity to demonstrate the tender romantic lyricism of his playing and he wrought out of his strings a bitter-sweet melancholy befitting of both the piece and his reputation.

The best was yet to come though, as the Brahms concerto featured partnership playing at the very highest level. The orchestra provided a faultless canvas upon which Isserlis drew light and shade beneath Bell’s wonderful detail. Sat centre-stage with his distinctive mop of hair doing its own thing, one could clearly see that Isserlis was joyously living this music with every fibre of his being and his enthusiasm was contagious. The musical understanding the two soloists share was audibly manifest, their phrasing was seamlessly matched, and their cohesive interplay and interpretation will be the lasting memory of the performance.”

 

Dvořák’s Sixth

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 14th October, 2.15pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Mozart Idomeneo – Ballet Music, 10′
  • Nielsen  Violin Concerto, 35′
  • Dvořák  Symphony No. 6, 41′
Pekka Kuusisto’s encore – Aulis Sallinen – Cadenza
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Love Dvořák’s symphony from the New World? Now discover his symphony from the old one! Dvořák’s Sixth is musical sunshine: from pastoral opening to jubilant finish, it’s 45 joyous minutes of folkdances, lullabies and autumn sunsets – perfect for the youthful energy of conductor Nicholas Collon, just as Nielsen’s tuneful Violin Concerto could have been written for our soloist Pekka Kuusisto. Mozart’s Idomeneo ballet launches the evening in majestic style.
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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:
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“Good to hear Dvorak’s sixth symphony, the equal of his last three in all but fame, especially when performed with such a winning mixture of tender lyricism, rhythmic vigour and bravado. With the CBSO brass and Elspeth Dutch’s outstanding horn section in full cry the finale powered away like a ship in full steam down the Vltava.The conductor Nicholas Collon’s pacing of the opening allegro was spot on and while the dynamic scherzo, with its cross-cutting rhythms, was exuberant Collon allowed the wind section to give full play to the trio’s Bohemian melodies.

They impressed again at the opening of the adagio which sounded like one of Mozart’s magical wind serenades.”     …

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Schubert, Strauss and Dvořák

Thursday 11th June, 7.30pm

Programme

  • Schubert  Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished) , 22′
  • Strauss  Horn Concerto No. 2 , 20′
  • Dvořák  Symphony No. 7, 38′

We are sorry to announce that Andris Nelsons has had to withdraw from this concert at Symphony Hall due to an acute ear infection. We are pleased to announce that CBSO Assistant Conductor Alpesh Chauhan has kindly agreed to conduct at very short notice. This evening’s concert programme remains unchanged.

If you enjoy Dvořák’s New World symphony, just imagine the music he wrote when he was happily at home! Dvořák’s Seventh is stormy, passionate and filled with the kind of tunes you just can’t stop humming. Tonight it’s served up with Strauss’s bubbly second horn concerto (starring the CBSO’s own Elspeth Dutch), and Schubert’s Eighth: a symphony that couldn’t be more perfect even if he’d finished it.

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After being called in at little over 24 hours notice for his full CBSO debut last week, Birmingham-born conductor Alpesh Chauhan talks with Steve Beauchampé

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     ” The CBSO’s principal hornist, Elspeth Dutch, was an ideal exponent for the work. She knows Symphony Hall’s acoustic well and how to make her horn sing both with and above the orchestra. She made the opening arpeggio seem effortless and produced a lovely, legato sound.

Chauhan was an excellent accompanist and ensured the CBSO strings provided a soft cushion of sound to support Dutch. It’s interesting that Strauss gives quite a prominent role for the orchestral horns in the concerto and their dialogue with Dutch towards the end of the first movement was nicely done. The wistful second movement is somewhat reminiscent of music from Der Rosenkavalier and Dutch was once again mellifluous here. The rondo final movement is a great test of agility for the soloist with its tricky leaps and jumps and complex rhythmic dovetailing with the orchestra. After the briefest of awkward starts Dutch and the orchestra gave us a delightful romp through this fun music, finishing with a tremendous flourish.

It is often argued that Dvořák’s Symphony no. 7 in D minor, one of his finest achievements, is his most serious work in the genre but I would wager that proponents of such a view have not spent much time listening to his first three – not too many people do. Certainly, of the symphonies most often performed, it does not possess the sunny character of the Fifth and Sixth, the quirky originality of the Eighth nor the outright folksy-ness of the Ninth. It is likely that Dvořák was under the influence of his friend, Brahms, at the time the Seventh was composed and the mastery of symphonic argument supports this.

Chauhan’s interpretation was, in many ways, fresh and invigorating. He plotted a swift course through the first movement, driving us headlong into the symphony’s turbulence without flinching.”     …

Symphonie Fantastique

Wednesday 29th April, 7.30pm

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

Programme

  • Dvořák Cello Concerto in B minor, 40′
  • Berlioz Symphonie fantastique , 59′

All you need is love! When Hector Berlioz couldn’t get the girl of his dreams, he wrote her a symphony: a huge, crazy, opium fuelled riot of supernatural fantasies and star-crossed passion. It’s quite simply… well, fantastic! And Dvořák took a boyhood romance and a vision of Niagara Falls, and poured them into the most ardent cello concerto ever written. Jian Wang tells the story tonight.
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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:
Click here for full review
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  “Before conclusions, it was soloist Jian Wang in the spotlight for the Dvořák Cello Concerto; by any standards this was a dazzling exhibition. After the opening statement on clarinets and bassoons, the crescendo of Znaider was ferocious if perhaps a little uneven. As the first subject is tossed around in the allegro, the contribution from the lower strings seemed more pronounced than I have noticed before, but it was an interpretation that was decidedly pleasing to my ear. The horn delivered the gorgeous second subject and after some typical Dvořákian string gaiety, Wang forcefully entered, displaying his talents to the full: a velvet caress at the bottom end, a delicate touch on the ‘A’ string, a fluidity to the semiquavers and an aggression when required in the codas. I wondered what make his instrument was – the programme merely said it was on loan. His dynamic control and use of vibrato portrayed a formidable technique, and his ability to sit back, adjust his spectacles, and enter from a relaxed position at the precise moment, was uncanny. As Dvořák interweaved his two subjects in the central section, the CBSO players exuded a sense of utter jubilation, a mood confirmed by the return to the opening theme that closes the movement.

The cello again allows others to open the second movement, adagio, ma non troppo. This time it was a wonderful combination of Oliver Janes on clarinet and the bassoons who discharged one of Dvořák’s touchingly melancholic tunes, made all the more poignant by the Chinese virtuoso’s entry. The discussion between soloist and the woodwinds was animated; broken by a sudden outburst from the orchestra and amplified by the brass and percussion sections, it heralds the lied ‘Leave me alone’, inspired by the composer’s love for Josefina Cermakova. There was now an intensity to Jang’s playing that infused the auditorium, a line of melody that was remarkably painted. The interplay between Jang and Marie-Christine Zupancic on flute was another magical moment, as was the bird-like interjections of Rainer Gibbons on oboe. The finale, allegro moderato, contains a complex three-part rondo, begun enthusiastically by the soloist. But the main message of Jang and the CBSO was one of recapitulation, highlighting the glorious way Dvořák treats his native folk songs. The well-deserved appreciation for Jang brought a snippet of an encore from a Bach cello suite.”     ….

Dvořák’s Piano Concerto

ThumbnailPure Emotion

Thursday 19th March 2015 at 2.15pm

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

Concert Packages

Andris Nelsons  conductor

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Stephen Hough  piano

Dvořák: Piano Concerto 36′
Listen on Spotify

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 55′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Is Rachmaninov’s Second the most romantic symphony ever written? With its vast, stormswept vistas, endless melodies and rapturous love-song of a slow movement, it’s certainly a contender, and Andris Nelsons conducts it with unbridled emotion. First, though, he rediscovers the spirited Piano Concerto by Antonín Dvorák – with one of the world’s finest living pianists as his partner. http://www.CBSO.co.uk

Support the CBSO

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Blog post by Stephen Hough about Dvořák’s Piano Concerto – here

Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony

ThumbnailPure Emotion

Wednesday 18th March 2015 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Stephen Hough  piano

Dvořák: Piano Concerto 36′
Listen on Spotify

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 55′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Stephen Hough’s encore – Dvořák – Songs My Mother Taught Me

Is Rachmaninov’s Second the most romantic symphony ever written? With its vast, stormswept vistas, endless melodies and rapturous love-song of a slow movement, it’s certainly a contender, and Andris Nelsons conducts it with unbridled emotion. First, though, he rediscovers the spirited Piano Concerto by Antonín Dvorák – with one of the world’s finest living pianists as his partner. http://www.CBSO.co.uk

Support the CBSO

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Blog post by Stephen Hough about Dvořák’s Piano Concerto – here

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “I must confess that I don’t know the concerto all that well – performances are not frequent – but it seemed to me that Hough and Nelsons made the best possible case for it. Both displayed full engagement simply through their body language – Nelsons was his usual expressive self. Hough’s playing was expertly nuanced and full of character while Nelsons and his orchestra gave him consistently marvellous support. The first movement, which accounts for about half of the entire piece, is full of Dvořákian stylistic fingerprints and in the introduction Nelsons set out the stall for this performance, shaping the music with freshness and vitality; later, several of the tutti passages were suitably red-blooded. The piano part is almost modest in tone – certainly by comparison with many other nineteenth century concertos – but Hough played it most persuasively. The movement as a whole was attractive and, in this performance, winning. 

Much of the Andante sostenuto second movement is gently lyrical. It was a great shame that the opening minutes were marred by quite an amount of intrusive coughing. There was a note in the programme that the performance was being recorded and the microphones were something of a giveaway. Even so the members of what my colleague Mark Berry has so rightly called the Bronchial Terrorists made their presence felt without, it seemed, making any effort to stifle the coughs. It is to be hoped that Hyperion will be able to get a less interrupted take of these pages either at the second performance of this concert or from rehearsals. The music itself was wonderfully delivered. Hough’s touch was delightful while the CBSO partnered him beautifully. Some lyrical asides apart, the finale is mainly high spirited in character. It’s here that the Czech folk element seemed most prominent to me. The performance was exciting and often exuberant; Hough and Nelsons were fully engaged and gave every indication of enjoying the music. 

The concerto may not be universally regarded as Dvořák at his best but the Symphony Hall audience gave the work and the performers an extremely warm reception. Stephen Hough sent us on our way to the interval with an utterly charming Dvořák encore. Watch out for the CD when it appears. ”     […]

[…]     “Instead the ardent lyricism of the music came across in an ideal way, the reading passionate and impulsive yet in a very natural way. This was a very fine performance. 

The finale surged in an exciting and confident fashion. Rachmaninov’s lyrical digressions along the way were given their proper due but never in such a way that the sense of purpose was sacrificed. The performance had great momentum and drive; Nelson’s conducting had an electric charge to it. The CBSO gave their all here and the music pulsated with life and energy. The blazing conclusion elicited an ovation from the audience, and rightly so.

 This memorable performance offered proof, if proof were needed, that this is one of the truly great Russian symphonies. I missed Nelsons’ previous CBSO performances of the work back in 2008, near the start of his term with the CBSO but I’m jolly glad that before he departs I have experienced him in a score to which he is so manifestly suited. My only regret is that I assume the recording microphones, put in place for the concerto, were switched off during the symphony.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Hough certainly made it seem the most attractive music in the world, making light of the more strenuous moments in the opening Allegro, adding silvery filigree to the Grieg-like passages in the slow movement, and steadily increasing the showiness of the finale. His Hyperion recording, taken from the Symphony Hall performances, should be a treat.

Nelsons followed the concerto with Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. He and the orchestra very much emphasised the score’s darkness and introspection, and in a work that can sometimes be smothered in sentimentality, there was never a hint of indulgence. The first movement was positively combative, the scherzo explosive, and even the long-limbed, languorous clarinet tune in the Adagio, elegantly played by Oliver Janes, had a sense of purpose about it. Nelsons handles such vast orchestral canvases magnificently, conceiving them as a single irresistible span, yet still managing to make sense of every bit of detail along the way.”    

*****

Review by John Allison, Telegraph:

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…     “Now we are about to get a new addition to the discography, as Stephen Hough’s thrilling performance with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra will happily be released on the Hyperion label.

At Symphony Hall, Hough and the CBSO’s music director, Andris Nelsons, shed fresh light on the work and its place within Dvořák’s output. Written in 1876, shortly before his first set of Slavonic Dances, it already anticipates in its slow movement the composer’s “New World” voice, but it also looks back to Chopin and Beethoven – perhaps even earlier in the rustic, Haydnesque innocence of the opening movement’s second subject. After a long orchestral introduction, the piano’s entry itself recalls the opening chords of Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto, and the finale’s mix of cosmopolitan sophistication and folk-rooted dance suggests supercharged Chopin.

Hough had all the delicacy and steel-fingered virtuosity that implies, and played with blistering brilliance where required. But what made this performance truly special was his musical dialogue with Nelsons and the orchestra. This is not a piece that plays itself, and in the wrong hands its paragraphs can sound disconnected, but Nelsons worked hard here to give it satisfying coherence. Ultimately, it was pure Dvorak.”     …

*****

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “When it eventually appears it’s bound to be one of the records of the year, and could well join Hough’s two previous releases with the CBSO (Mendelssohn, Lawrence Foster conducting and Saint-Saens, Sakari Oramo conducting) as Gramophone award-winners.

This time round it will be the Schumann concerto (recorded live at Symphony Hall last November), and the rare Dvorak, which an excited and packed auditorium acclaimed last night.

As Hough’s deeply-committed and dedicated performance revealed, the Dvorak does in fact have many Schumannesque moments, particularly in the opening movement, so the coupling will indeed be appropriate.

Hough brings probing thoughtfulness to everything he touches, and the listener is too transfixed ever to consider virtuosity.

He preserved the essential intimacy of the work even in a context which was perhaps too overblown for Dvorak’s ideas, with shaded reserves of tone and a dreamy spontaneity. The piano-writing is not that of a pianist-composer, but Hough was able to make the keyboard communicate tellingly, even at the normally thin top of its range.

This was a richly rewarding partnership between piano and CBSO, Nelsons and Hough breathing as one, and there were some gorgeous orchestral gems, not least the horn opening to the andante, and the bravely sustained long note from the violins at that movement’s end. Songs My Mother Taught Me, short and very sweet, was the perfect encore.

And so we came to what probably most of the audience had thronged to hear, Rachmaninov’s irresistibly wonderful Second Symphony.

There was so much to relish here: the quietly sonorous initial tuba entry; Zoe Beyers’ sweet solos from the concertmaster’s desk; a beautifully-phrased clarinet in the slow movement’s famous solo.”     …

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “Hough’s playing, too, was heroic in the many passages in which the soloist has to project their arpeggiated accompaniment to the main action that takes place in the orchestra. He also delighted in the moments of repose, including the lovely “Twinkle, twinkle” melody that cannot fail to cheer. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelsons played with both heft and beauty, though orchestra and soloist took a little while to settle their tempi together. Nevertheless, there were lovely solo contributions from the principal bassoonist in the first and second movements and the principal horn in the second, an achingly tender balm after the relative bombast of the first.

While it felt as though Hough and Nelsons were having to strain every sinew to sell the first movement to the audience, they seemed to relax and have a great deal of fun in the dance rhythms of the Allegro con fuoco finale. This was evidenced in Nelsons’ characteristic leaps from the rostrum and a look of pure delight from Hough when the conductor and orchestra pulled off a remarkable feat of rubato – a grand pull-up into the orchestral ritornello after the development section. I think it will be a while before I fully appreciate this Cinderella work but with Hyperion’s microphones present at least I’ll be able to return to this team’s performance when the recording is released.”     …