Elgar’s Cello Concerto

with Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner

Tuesday 17th January, 2017 – 7:30pm

Artists

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
 
Edward Gardnerconductor
Truls Mørkcello

Programme

GriegPeer Gynt Suite No 1
ElgarCello Concerto
WaltonSymphony No 1

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Truls Mørk’s encore – Bach –

Bergen Philharmonic’s encores – Elgar – Nimrod, and Grieg – March of the Trolls

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A great Norwegian orchestra meets great British music, as Edward Gardner conducts Grieg, Walton, and Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Truls Mørk is the soloist, and his take on Elgar’s hugely popular concerto is both fresh and deeply thoughtful. Gardner, meanwhile, became Chief Conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in 2015. Together, they’ve got a real chemistry – so whether in Walton’s explosive First Symphony or Peer Gynt (by Bergen’s hometown hero Edvard Grieg), expect some serious energy tonight.

6:15pm: Pre-concert conversation with Edward Gardner. This conversation will be signed by a British Sign Language interpreter.

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Steven Osborne: Beethoven

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Thursday 22nd September, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Beethoven Egmont: Overture, 8′
  • Beethoven  Piano Concerto No. 1, 37′
  • Butterworth  A Shropshire Lad , 11′
  • Walton Symphony No. 2, 27′

Steven Osborne’s encore – Beethoven Bagatelle op.
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No-one conducts British music with more eloquence and flair than Edward Gardner, who tonight rediscovers two very different twentieth century masterpieces: Walton’s sparkling, neglected Second Symphony and – 100 years since Butterworth’s death on the Somme – the heartbreaking A Shropshire Lad. First though, another treasure of British music, pianist and CBSO Artist in Residence Steven Osborne, brings all his poetry and power to Beethoven’s exuberant First Concerto.

 

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Review by Richard Ely, Bachtrack:

Click here for full review

…    Even in as fine a performance as this one under Edward Gardner, it was easy to hear why this relatively brief (under half an hour) but richly textured work has struggled to be heard. Although displaying all Walton’s acknowledged gifts for orchestration, the absence of instantly memorable themes (‘pop’ music, if you like) and a passacaglia finale that seems merely repetitious on first hearing can make the symphony seem more a virtuoso exercise in style than a work of depth and feeling. But for anyone familiar with the piece, there was no doubting that Gardner had the measure of it. This was a performance that galvanised all sections of the CBSO, reaching a peak of expressiveness in the central Lento assai movement – considered by Michael Kennedy to be a character study of Cressida, the mercenary courtesan from Walton’s contemporaneous opera Troilus and Cressida – where the violins and the woodwind created an inspired body of sound that was both seductive and sinister. Anyone with more than a glancing acquaintance with this score would have been delighted by such an exciting performance. Judging from their faces at the end, both conductor and orchestra felt they’d pulled off quite a coup!

Dating from immediately before the First World War, Butterworth’s ‘rhapsody for orchestra’ A Shropshire Lad is an altogether more approachable work, an evocation of the English countryside of the kind we are perhaps over-familiar with from the contemporaneous likes of Moeran and Delius. But this was a fine, sensitive performance of a difficult to programme piece, an evocation of the Housman cycle of poems which Butterworth had earlier set to music. Most of the burden of the work falls on the strings and woodwinds, whose reiteration of the rhapsody’s defining Dorian motif was powerfully expressive.”     …

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Review by Ivan Hewitt, Telegraph:

Click here for full review (scroll down)

…     “The conductor was Ed Gardner, a longtime favourite guest conductor of the orchestra, who has a way of bringing out the best in the players. The opening chords of Egmont were brusque as well as stern, and the answering plaintive phrases in the woodwind were beautifully shaped. One had the sense of the music labouring under a massive weight, eventually thrown off in the joyous final minutes, where it seems as though tyranny has been banished for ever.

Steven Osborne, pianist in Beethoven’s first piano concerto, gave a similar sense of throwing caution to the wind. He can be the most fastidious and careful of pianists, and what made this performance so thrilling was that these qualities lived side-by-side with reckless daring-do. The cadenza of the first movement (that’s the moment where the soloist gets a chance to spin some virtuoso solo fantasies on the melodies) was especially telling. With ostentatious cleverness, it combined things we’d already heard, then seemed to invite the orchestra to join back in, and then unexpectedly went back to the first melody but in the wrong key. It was gruffly humorous in a properly Beethovenian way, but who composed it? I suspect it was Osborne himself.

After all that blazing Enlightenment optimism and Olympian laughter, the gentle nostalgia of George Butterworth’s Rhapsody on his own A Shropshire Lad might have seemed a terrible come-down. In fact the performance was so beautifully shaped, the lovely opening phrase from clarinetists Oliver Janes and Joanna Paton so tenderly evocative of a long-lost summer afternoon, that one didn’t mind the lowering of the emotional temperature.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Steven Osborne, this season’s CBSO artist-in-residence, was soloist, bringing a Mozartean clarity of articulation combined with well-coloured pedalling, and there was a wonderful fluidity of phrasing from all concerned. Particularly memorable were the magical soundworld of the Largo, with the pearly elaboration of Osborne’s filigree, and the twilit conclusion of the finale, spoilt only by Beethoven’s own noisy shooting himself in the foot.

George Butterworth’s Rhapsody: A Shropshire Lad was a poignant reminder that a century ago the Battle of the Somme was raging, and that indeed the composer himself had been killed during its course. During his tragically short life Butterworth made quite a mark on the English musical scene, and this account revealed how much parts of Holst’s Planets owe to the composer, with Oliver Janes’s solo clarinet singing regretfully over the shimmering nostalgia of the strings, aching and yearning.

The zippy urgency with which Walton’s Second Symphony opens provided quite a contrast under Gardner’s energising conducting, sympathetic as well to the dappled, sunlit timbres which link the work to the contemporaneous Cello Concerto.

In the Lento Assai Walton gives us one of the greatest slow movements ever penned by an Englishman in any format, its gorgeous outpouring of melody caressed so fervently by a willing, alert CBSO responding to this remarkable conductor.”

 

 

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.”     …

 

 

 

 

Falstaff

Wednesday 13th July, 7.00pm

Programme

  • Verdi  Falstaff, 115′

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Featuring

Tutto nel mondo è burla: “All the world’s a joke”. The final words of Verdi’s Falstaff bring down the curtain on one of the warmest and wisest comedies in all music. What better way to celebrate the Bard than with this uproarious operatic re-imagining of The Merry Wives of Windsor ? A world-class cast joins Edward Gardner to end our season in a burst of laughter and joy.
Sung in Italian with English surtitles
There will be a 20-minute interval after Act 2.

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Having marshalled a first-class cast, and in dynamic form on the podium, it was Edward Gardner, in his final appearance as the orchestra’s principal guest conductor, who masterminded the occasion, sparky and sparkling from beginning to life-affirming final chord.

In the title role was Ambrogio Maestri, with girth to match his vocal might, and whose authoritative assumption of the fat knight’s persona is internationally acclaimed. Maestri, every bit as magisterial as his name, extrapolated every ounce, no, every gram, of comic possibility from the music, varying his sound from big, booming resonance to mischievous falsetto and bringing lovely variety to the colouring.

Remarkably, this was a performance with neither director nor props, but with Gardner making the action flow so naturally and with such pace as to belie that fact. The singers wore evening dress but, in the case of the men, cleverly subverted, with Lukas Jakobski’s tall Pistola and Peter van Hulle’s shorter Bardolph roughed up to make a classic partnership. The wit and humour of the Garter Inn came over well, both Falstaff’s relationship with his sidekicks and the nature of the man, with his twin obsessions for food and women, manifestly clear. Not only did Gardner get the essential comic timing of this just right – and thus the rest of the opera – but in the part of the Garter landlord, handed Falstaff the bar tab to cue another grand bit of Maestri belly-boasting.”

*****

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Review  by  Richard Bratby, ArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

“Edward Gardner gives the downbeat, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra bursts into Verdi’s great opening guffaw. Enter stage left Graham Clark, as Dr Caius. Enter stage right Ambrogio Maestri, as Falstaff. And before a note has been sung, the audience is laughing. I know that in the post-Dumpygate era we’re not supposed to discuss a singer’s physical appearance. It’s just that everything about Maestri – his stature, his gait, his rolling eyes, his genial manner and his big rubbery smile – suggests that he was born to play the Fat Knight. He simply is Falstaff.

That being so, he’s not merely witty in himself, but the cause that wit is in others. His very presence on stage creates a glow of warmth and good humour. It made an excellent starting point for this concert performance, the final instalment in the CBSO’s Our Shakespeare season.     […]

[…]     And Gardner certainly knows how to assemble a cast. Corinne Winters, as Alice Ford, was a perfectly chosen foil for Maestri: all knowing smiles, flashing eyes and sassy self-confidence, with a voice as bright as it was expressive. Falstaff didn’t stand a chance. Jane Henschel found tenderness as well as a hint of steel as a Mistress Quickly who was very much one of the girls while Clark, Hulle and Lukas Jakobski (Pistola) made a suitably gangly bunch of reprobates; reedy of tone and exuberantly in character (it helped that Hulle is small enough to be physically lifted off his feet and bounced up and down by Maestri).

The darkness of Justina Gringyte’s mezzo as Meg Page was nicely chosen to set off Winters’s soprano, just as Pallesen’s tighter, harder-edged baritone made him a suitable contrast and adversary for Falstaff: a combative figure, with a menacing flash of Iago in his jealous outbursts. And gleaming through it all, Fomina’s sweet, sunlit singing as Nannetta: a luminous performance, which Furness (deputising for an indisposed Allan Clayton) matched in ardour if not sonic beauty.

They played off each other like a dream, and it would be a joy to see this lot together on stage. At times, it really felt like they were – swept along by Gardner’s brisk, fluid tempi and the all-pervading presence of Maestri: whether singing a mocking falsetto as warmly and richly as his great monologues, sitting back and drumming his fingers with a huge, satisfied smirk, or unleashing a truly volcanic surge of black, sonorous tone.”     …

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Review by Mark Pullinger, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “To say that Maestri has made the title role his own is an understatement. He simply is Falstaff, inhabiting his character even without any trappings of costume. His warm baritone filled Symphony Hall with ease, from growling exclamations of “Ladri!” to falsetto impressions of his supposedly enamoured Alice. But what makes Maestri’s Falstaff incomparable is his appetite for the text; he greedily savours every word, inflecting each with distinctive flavour. He is a vocal actor nonpareil. We don’t just laugh at his Falstaff – we laugh with him. We empathise with him too. His hangdog expression and lugubrious “Mondo ladro” as Falstaff bemoans the wickedness in the world struck a chord, I suspect, in many of us. “Everything’s going downhill.” I know the feeling, pal.

Although this concert performance lacked a lot of the visual comedy – Falstaff squeezing himself snugly into a laundry basket, dressing up in his finery to woo Alice, or masquerading as Herne the Hunter – it still radiated good humour aplenty. There were precious few props, but still a sense of drama as singers – performing off-book – entered and exited each scene, although suspension of disbelief was required when Ford and his henchmen, searching for Falstaff, somehow seemed to miss Maestri cowering behind a gerbera! Maestri’s physique du rôle meant he towered over the cowering Bardolph and lifted Alice clean off the ground.

Corinne Winters, in peachy voice, offered an impish Alice, leading Windsor’s ‘Merry Wives’ in their plotting to teach Sir John a lesson or two. Deliciously phrased, Winters’ Alice is the real deal, soaring in ensemble, sighing in mock adoration at Falstaff’s clumsy courting.      […]

[…]     Cast apart, most of the joy came from Ed Gardner‘s assured handling of the orchestra. Verdi’s miraculous score fizzes and teems with detail and the CBSO revelled in it, from double basses scrabbling around like elephants en pointe as the disgruntled Falstaff recovers from his Thames dunking, to wispy flute fluttering skywards in the great ‘Honour’ monologue. Horns whooped their cuckold motif gloriously, gauzy strings accompanied Nannetta’s Queen of the Fairies. Sir Edward Elgar, describing his Introduction and Allegro, referred to its “devil of a fugue”. No fugue is as fiendish, though, as that which ends Falstaff and Gardner kept tight control, each cog ticking away merrily. As Maestri uttered the words “Tutti gabbàti!” (All are cheated), he pointed his finger at every one of us… and we all laughed together.  “

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Review by Alexander Campbell, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…     “The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was on ebullient and scintillating form, enjoying the changing moods and revelling in its part, Edward Gardner leading a fleet and breezy outing, relishing the raunchy, the ethereal and the deliberately overblown passages in equal measure – this was a Falstaff that passed by all too quickly!

The cast was excellent. In the title-role was Ambrogio Maestri, the leading exponent of Falstaff today. Large of frame, and with an impressive and flexible voice, he also has great stage presence and made every syllable of the text brim with meaning… and double meaning. He captured the geniality and the self-delusional aspects of the character perfectly and communicated these in a wonderfully artless way.

Equally impressive was the Ford of Nicholas Pallesen. He has a wonderful sappy baritone, with a ringing top and also much charisma. ‘È sogno o realtà’ was thrilling in its depiction of pent-up jealousy, bewilderment and emotional hurt. He was also very effective in the ensemble passages, always in the picture – and not just because of his dazzling co-respondent shoes!”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Critics’ Circle:

Click here for full review

“The CBSO’s concert-season and Edward Gardner’s tenure as principal guest conductor could not have ended on a more joyous note – a scintillating performance of Verdi’s final opera, which had a packed Symphony Hall setting the rafters ringing.

This was a predominantly youthful cast, the Merry Wives themselves (Corinne Winters as Alice Ford, Justina Gringyte as Meg Page) pert and winsome, Nicholas Pallesen’s Ford a blustering, insecure paterfamilias, and Sofia Fomina and Sam Furness enchanting as the young lovers Nannetta and Fenton, who cannot keep their hands off each other.

Other roles were characterfully filled in this lively semi-staging, but most engaging of all were the portrayals of the opera’s two wily schemers, Jane Henschel the resourceful Mistress Quickly delighting in her plotting, and, above all, Ambrogio Maestri as her old mucker Sir John, pompous in his self-esteem and touching in his awareness of his decline.”     …

 

 

 

Elgar’s Second

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 17th March, 2016 – 7:30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Walton Prelude: Richard III
  • Walton Viola Concerto
  • Elgar Symphony No. 2

“Rarely, rarely, comest thou, Spirit of Delight!” Edward Elgar headed his Second Symphony with a line from Shelley, and then launched it in a huge, surging wave of golden sound. Is this the greatest symphony ever composed by an Englishman? Edward Gardner and the CBSO will make a passionate case – after beginning the evening with Walton’s jazz-age concerto, and another stirring cinematic salute to Shakespeare.

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Support the CBSO

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Review by John Allison, Telegraph:

Click here for full review

…     “Performances are always welcome, especially when the soloist is this country’s leading viola player, Lawrence Power, returning here to the piece with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner.

Premiered in 1929 by no less a musician than Paul Hindemith as soloist (decades later, Walton would repay the favour with his Variations on a Theme of Hindemith), the work is sometimes identified as a jazz-age concerto. But it is much more than that, and specifically the romping middle movement marks it out as a great example of British modernism. Gardner took that aspect in his stride, along with all the other elements he fused together tautly and seamlessly.

Right from the ruminative start, Power displayed rock-steady authority. He found serenading delicacy and fierce virtuosity in equal measure. Although it shows the influence of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, still only a decade old when Walton was writing his piece, the Viola Concerto is also shot through with the Italianate light the composer had discovered in the Amalfi – and the ends of both the first and third movements were given their full glinting radiance.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Walton at his more authentic followed, with Lawrence Power the engaging soloist in the melancholy Viola Concerto, shaping a poignant characterisation from his eloquent instrument.

At times his tone was appropriately bluesy, at others his rhythmic attack was as biting as though playing Prokofiev, and the lovely ending brought us near to Elgarian wistfulness.

Which we then heard in abundance, in the most perfectly-judged performance of Elgar’s nostalgic Second Symphony I think I have ever heard. Compared with Gardner’s subtle reading, memories of Boult seemed too literal, Barbirolli too head-pattingly indulgent; here Gardner set flexible tempi, discreetly encouraged significant instrumental lines (the horns were understatedly magnificent, the double-basses noble), and to the slow movement’s threnody brought mystery as well as inner grief.

There was a prolonged hush at the end of the work’s twilit coda. Then time to go home and savour the programme-note penned by our greatest writer on Elgar, the late and much-missed Michael Kennedy.”

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Review by Rebecca Franks, The Times:

Click here for full review (££)

…     “The 1929 Viola Concerto that Elgar so disliked blends dark, doubting melody with dancing modernity. Lawrence Power was the eloquent soloist, a virtuoso who draws you in, asking you to listen. Always agile, purposeful and lyrical, his sound was sweet and silky up high, angrier and rougher in the lower reaches. A quiet but certain voice in a turbulent world, he held both hope and anguish side by side with moving poignancy.

“I have written out my soul,” said Elgar of his Second Symphony (1911), dedicated to the memory of Edward VII. Gardner’s driven approach didn’t always give the elegiac moments room to breathe, or the voices of doubt to speak, but emphasised the complex modernity of this music. The Scherzo was, as Elgar wanted it, “very, very brilliant”. Elsewhere the strings played with radiant Wagnerian intensity, and it ended with a beautifully judged fade from gold to dusk.”

Henry V

Thursday 7th January, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Strauss  Macbeth, 18′
  • Vaughan Williams  Three Shakespeare Songs, 8′
  • Verdi  Macbeth – ballet music, 12′
  • Walton  Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario (arr. Christopher Palmer), 60′

“O for a Muse of fire…” Shakespeare’s Henry V crammed the Battle of Agincourt into a tiny wooden theatre. Four centuries later, William Walton matched that vision with music that redefined British cinema, and this lavish concert version weaves all the play’s greatest speeches and Walton’s score into a compelling musical drama. Edward Gardner launches our year of Shakespeare celebrations with passionate Shakespearean masterpieces by Verdi and Richard Strauss.

Support the CBSO

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Available on BBC Radio 3 iPlayer here for 28 days

 

Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The CBSO Chorus, prepared by Julian Wilkins, performed Vaughan Williams’ Three Shakespeare Songs and excelled in the charmingly delicate Full Fathom Five.

They ended the concert in full cry with the stirring Deo gratias conclusion to Walton’s music for Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film of Henry V.

Christopher Palmer weaved the film cues, some other Walton filler material and the play’s great speeches into a convincing and moving hour-long Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario.

The narrator Samuel West played the King, the Chorus (and more) switching between swagger and sobriety with ease and delivering a St Crispin’s Day speech that would have made even a pacifist feel like taking up arms.

Gardner elicited playing of equal ardour from the orchestra. Splendid!”

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Review by John Allison, Telegraph:

Click here for full review

As the orchestra closest to Shakespeare country, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra naturally has a role to play in this year’s anniversary celebrations of the Bard. But there is nothing dutiful about its approach to Shakespeare 400: this start of the CBSO’s “Our Shakespeare” season showed it not only getting in ahead of other British bands with its Shakespearean programming, but doing something more interesting than most.

Edward Gardner opened the concert by conducting a great rarity, Richard Strauss’s early tone poem Macbeth. This work’s neglect is not hard to fathom, for it lacks big tunes, but as a study in darkness it is fascinating. Sounding a little as if the midsummer light of Wagner’s Meistersinger had been switched to midwinter, with touches of Tchaikovsky at his gloomiest, this music blows in stormily and seldom lets up. Icy shivers accompany Lady Macbeth’s entry, and the textures run deep. Gardner drew a taut, brilliantly energised performance that showcased the orchestra at its surging best.

Balancing this was the ballet music from Verdi’s Macbeth, an obligatory addition when the composer revised his opera for Paris. Verdi’s sophisticated scoring, evoking supernatural elements, inspired the orchestra to play with colour and bite.”     …

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Review by Sam Chipman, TheReviewsHub:

Click here for full review

…     “Walton’s score was written for the 1944 Henry V film, starring Laurence Olivier – at one of the darkest periods in Britain’s history the film was a propaganda effort commissioned by the government to buoy the national spirit during the onslaught of World War II. From the court in England to Falstaff’s death and the send-off of the troops to the battlefields of France, Walton’s score tells the story vividly, making no attempt to hide in the background, and complements the famous words of Shakespeare. The brass and percussion come into their own during this section of the concert, adding the much needed triumphant feel that rings around the magnificent Symphony Hall, a jubilant performance from all involved. Falstaff’s death features an exquisitely played lower string melody which much resembles a theme from Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and a rustic bassoon melody adds a real English courtly feel. Seasoned Shakespearian actor, Samuel West masterfully weaves his way through Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, a performance of real stature and variation. He is compelling throughout, and his St Crispin’s Day speech is a stand out moment, truly rousing. The CBSO make an enormously full sound, leading to a powerful and climactic end befitting of the evening and Shakespeare’s magic.

“In sweet music is such art…” Shakespeare’s work lends itself incredibly well to the musical world, and the imaginations of those that inspired such musical feats – when the words and the music come together a higher emotional plane is reached.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Under Gardner, the orchestra and its chorus made it a vivid enough experience, though, and there was a nicely judged virtuoso performance from Samuel West as the narrator, who took on a variety of roles, from the Chorus to the king, via Falstaff, Pistol and the Duke of Burgundy.

The concert had begun with another rarely heard work, Macbeth – one of the least known of Richard Strauss’s symphonic poems. It’s a dark, turbulent piece, without too many memorable moments, though Gardner made its fierce climax impressive enough. There was more Macbeth-inspired music in the shape of a taut, rhythmically snappy account of the ballet from Verdi’s opera, while in between came Vaughan Williams’s Three Shakespeare Songs, insubstantial, but a chance for the CBSO Chorus to shine without the orchestra getting in the way.”

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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “The Olivier film of Henry V had started as a piece of propaganda in 1943 and thankfully co-producer Dallas Bower convinced the actor that William Walton was the best man to provide the backing score. This combination, together with the later arrangement by Christopher Palmer, lives on in the concert hall and its enactment proved to be the ideal platform from which to launch CBSO’s commemorations to Shakespeare: vibrant music from the conductor and orchestra, patriotic delivery from the narrator. Gardner induced a sense of period colour and mysticism before sheer grandness took over in the Prologue, a royal sensation reinforced by trumpet fanfares (the trumpet section crisply led throughout by Jonathan Holland) and a flamboyant crescendo of the choir. The scene was set, as in the play by the commentator ‘Chorus’, actor Samuel West dramatically entering stage left for ‘O for a Muse of fire’. Elizabethan merry-making and enthusiastic drum rolls (the CBSO percussion section had a busy night) gave way for the bassoon and brass to introduce the corpulent Falstaff, jug in hand, At the Boar’s Head. But the flatulent jester is dead, his heart broken by the king, having been rebuffed by Hal’s ‘I know thee not, old man’ at the end of Henry IV Part Two, the solemn tone of West and the orchestral accompaniment knitting together impeccably. This eventually gives way to the jubilant familiar Waltonesque strains of Embarkation and a resolute ‘No king of England, if not king of France’ from West. The leave Pistol takes from Mistress Quickly in Touch her sweet lips and part seems an Interlude somewhat out of place to me, not being from Shakespearean text. By contrast Harfleur was dominated by the iconic ‘Once more into the breech’ and although no Olivier (who is?) West oozed inspiration and patriotism, fortified by the ranks of the CBSO willing to follow him. After Chorus describes the early skirmishes, Gardner brought a tension to Walton’s swirling dark music in The Night Watch as West portrayed a ‘little touch of Harry in the night’, the lowering of the hall lights and subsequent total extinguishment, adding to the atmosphere. West was at his best for the philosophical and prayer-like Upon the King, verse so appropriate on the eve of such an historical day in 1415, an execution worthy of the stage of Stratford’s Memorial Theatre or London’s Globe. Agincourt and the St Crispian address to the ‘rememberèd…. band of brothers’, the first ‘few’ to whom so much is owed, saw West begin in conversational mood, gradually building up the fervour in his voice to match the exciting loin-girdling score. Mid-battle King Henry has another word with his maker ‘to dispose the day…. how He pleaseth’ and as the battle raged Gardner seemed to squeeze that extra ounce from the strings (well by Zoë Beyers) fiercer than ever amid the Spirit–of-England theme on the brass, leading to an excruciating musical climax. Against the odds Henry is rewarded – West’s ‘The day is ours’ poignantly heard across the hushed auditorium before praising God. The choir gleefully rejoiced with the Agincourt Song, continuing this mood into At the French Court, where the Duke of Burgundy acts as mediator with more beautiful Shakespearian lines; this sentiment made more contextual by the orchestra’s pastoral back-drop that dissolves into a snatch of Cantaloube’s Baïlèro, hauntingly played by the oboe of Rainer Gibbons. In the Epilogue, the French King offers his daughter Kate to seal the truce. Now with something to genuinely celebrate, Gardner and the CBSO let it rip, revisiting earlier Walton themes. Chorus resumes his story-telling role with ‘Thus far…’ relating how for Henry V ‘Fortune made his sword’, the Agincourt Song and ‘Deo gratias Anglia’ wholeheartedly rounding it all off.

A five star send-off to Our Shakespeare.”

 

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Storify by Jennifer, of Twitter comments:

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Sibelius’ Fifth

Thursday 1st October, 7.30pm

Featuring

Programme

  • Mendelssohn  Overture, The Hebrides, 10′
  • Mozart  Piano Concerto No. 9, K.271 , 32′
  • Sibelius Symphony No. 5, 32′
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Lars Vogt’s encore – Chopin – Nocturne in C Sharp Minor
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Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony begins with a glowing sunrise and ends with a vision of a flight of swans – and one of the simplest but noblest melodies ever written. A real CBSO speciality, there’s no finer way to salute Sibelius in his anniversary year; first, though, Edward Gardner takes us to sea with Felix Mendelssohn, and joins the masterly Lars Vogt in Mozart’s little jewel of a piano concerto.
Available on BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert for 28 days here
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Review by Hedy Mühleck, BachTrack (for matinee of same programme)
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…     “With the concerto, the programme had quickly sailed all the way east to the land of a thousand lakes and anniversary composer Jean Sibelius, whom we picture standing on one of them, looking out onto the calm waters, until a noise draws his gaze upwards. He later records in his diary: “…I saw 16 swans. One of my greatest experiences! Lord God, what beauty! […] A low refrain reminiscent of a small child crying. Nature, mysticism and life’s Angst!” Reading about his excitement on seeing a formation of swans pass overhead, one can but wonder how this could have made such an impression on the man, but hearing its reverberation in his Fifth Symphony, one cannot help being drawn into this time-stopping, slightly mystical moment as the birds “disappeared into the solar haze like a gleaming solar ribbon.”Eerily rustling strings grew the figurative reeds surrounding the lake and a creepy, oppressive atmosphere, before brilliant, shining brass took over, combining forces for one of Sibelius’ grand crescendos that crested and washed over the listener with elemental force, and that smashed up against one entire body rather than only entering one’s ears. The second movement pizzicato cues, precise to perfection, displayed the orchestra’s enormous dramatic tension that discharged into the final movements opening, racing tremolos. Never did the musicians show any sign of tiring despite the high speed and played with a solemn but taut energy.

In Gardner’s take, always natural and controlled, Sibelius’ “swan hymn” was more pacing than swinging and, perhaps necessarily so, at a slightly swifter clip, but no less memorable for it, evoking mental images of the majestic birds beating their wings above the awed composer. The high woodwinds delivered their gorgeous chant-like theme with moving emoition, which eventually gave way for yet another elemental, incredibly powerful crescendo that was crowned by the closing orchestral stabs, gripping, mesmerising, awe-inspiring chords, thrown out with absolute precision. This. Was. Big.”