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.

Tamsin Waley-Cohen

in Recital

Monday 3rd October, 2016, 7:30pm

Town Hall, Birmingham

Artists

Tamsin Waley-Cohenviolin
Huw Watkins piano

Programme

Beethoven – Violin Sonata No 5, Spring
Ravel – Violin Sonata No 2 in G major
Oliver Knussen – Reflection (World premiere)
Elgar – Violin Sonata in E minor
Gershwin (arr. Heifetz) – Selection from Porgy and Bess
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Our Birmingham Classical season bursts to life this October with the wonderful young British violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, who will be familiar to audiences from her time asAssociate Artist at Orchestra of the Swan. We are thrilled to now also be able to announce an addition to this already stunning programme in the form of a new work from composer Oliver Knussen (Artist-in-Association at Birmingham Contemporary Music Group) entitled Reflection.This work has been written specially for Tamsin and commissioned by THSH and the European Concert Hall Organisation, in memory of Lyndon Jenkins who served as Town Hall Symphony Hall’s Music Adviser from 2004 – 2014. Money raised from Lyndon’s memorial concert at Town Hall in 2014 has been used to fund this new commission. Joined by regular partner Huw Watkins, Cohen promises to bring all her signature fantasy and flair to the violin sonatas of Elgar and Ravel, plus an unashamedly virtuosic take on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in addition to this exciting new work. http://www.THSH.co.uk

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“Facing the music: Tamsin Waley-Cohen”

Click here for Guardian article

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Review by Richard Lutz, BirminghamPress:

Click here for full review

…     ” Both men were taken by American blues and, in her recital, the violinist used pieces relying heavily on Americana: Ravel’s Sonata no. 2 in G Major and Gershwin’s suite from Porgy and Bess.

Both were beautiful renditions of this genre; the Ravel sonata hard edged and at times atonal, the Gershwin (arranged by Jascha Heifetz) a swooping series of the composer’s operatic songs that summons up the heat of the South.

Ms Waley-Cohen also introduced an Oliver Knussen world premiere (Reflection) which the composer himself enjoyed in the Town Hall stalls and stood to applause after the violinist sought him out following her piece. He seemed happy with the result.”     …

 

 

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Beethoven’s Seventh

Saturday 18th June, 2016, 7.00pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Weber  Overture to Oberon , 10′
  • Elgar  Cello Concerto, 30′
  • Beethoven Symphony No. 7, 36′

“I am the new Bacchus, pressing out glorious wine for the human spirit!” Ludwig van Beethoven wasn’t known for his modesty – but until you’ve heard his Seventh Symphony in full, heart-pounding flight, you’ve never known just how intoxicating music can be. Kazuki Yamada will go all-out: a high-octane contrast to Elgar’s hugely popular Cello Concerto, performed with poetry by the wonderful Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey.

Sibelius’ Second

Thursday 16 June, 2.15pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Beethoven  Egmont Overture , 8′
  • Elgar  Cello Concerto, 30′
  • Sibelius  Symphony No. 2, 44′

A cello cries out in sorrow, the woodwinds sigh, and, like mist on an autumn river, a quiet melody drifts into the evening sky. Elgar’s Cello Concerto is one of those pieces that touches everyone’s soul, and the wonderful Pieter Wispelwey will wring out every drop of poetry, in a concert that begins with Beethoven’s heroic Egmont overture and ends with Sibelius’s sweeping symphonic portrait of a nation awakening to freedom.

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…        “Pieter Wispelwey’s interpretation seemed relatively laid-back in relation to these underlying intense feelings but it was a pleasure to listen to, as well as to see him interacting with the orchestra. There was good rapport and a strong sense of dialogue and empathy, with soloist frequently smiling at the leader and conductor, and dance-like head movements while listening to orchestral passages. The warmth and depth of tone he conjured from his instrument were a delight, whether in the strong, resonant chords that frame the whole piece or in phrases that demanded a lightness of touch.

The middle section of the first movement has the solo instrument singing above full strings with a heart-tugging lyrical swaying that brought to mind an undulating climb in the Malvern Hills. The second scherzo movement was dramatic and captivating, Wispelwey demonstrating virtuosic speed, followed by lovely arcing phrases and careful placing of notes in the plaintive Adagio. The finale gave scope for flashes and flourishes of drama from the whole orchestra, with an almost combative feel between them and the soloist, before once again altering pace, the mournful closing chords handled with finesse and eliciting an enthusiastic audience response.

The second half gave us the sunny side of Sibelius, with his Symphony no. 2 in D major, Op.43. It has something of a southern feeling, an atmosphere of warmth, since it was inspired and partly written during a visit to Italy. The lilting melody in the first movement on poised, singing violins transitions to attention-grabbing pizzicato then luxuriates once more in legato playing. Interjections from woodwind, as it were passing the baton between sections, provided a fine example of the visual building of texture, once again underlining the value of witnessing live music. A Don Juan-inspired theme in the second movement introduced a sense of menace, with pizzicato lower strings and skilfully handled timpani in the background, almost imperceptible at first then growing.

The third movement’s multiple moods elicited nuggets of tempo change and well handled pauses. The triumphant ending, by contrast, was a master class in sustained speed – an astonishing feat of sheer physicality on the part of the strings. It made one’s arms ache just to watch them!”

 

Vaughan Williams’ Fifth

Thursday 5th May 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Bax  The Garden of Fand , 17′
  • Elgar Sea Pictures , 23′
  • Vaughan  Williams Symphony No. 5, 42′

A vision of peace in the depths of war, a pagan orgy beneath the waves of the Atlantic, or Edward Elgar revealing his deepest, darkest feelings? Forget everything you thought you knew about British music, and surrender to the emotion, as John Wilson joins Alice Coote to bring all his signature insight to three glorious masterpieces by three very different British masters.

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Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “A performance of this freshness, scope and sheer beauty is something else altogether. It’s partly about the sound. Wilson has a knack for making an orchestra glow, and the CBSO responded with ardour. The way the tone swelled with warmth in the first movement, as Vaughan Williams quotes his own ‘Alleluias’, sent waves of shivers down the spine.

It’s not just about sonority, though. In Elgar’s Sea Pictures , Wilson and the CBSO surged and flowed around Alice Coote’s smoky mezzo, giving her both space and support to draw some troublingly dark and intimate things from these much-misunderstood songs. And in Bax’s The Garden of Fand , Wilson shaped long, sweeping phrases, pushing the music urgently forward while bringing out all the swirling details and iridescent greens and purples of Bax’s art nouveau seascape. Incredibly, this is the first time the CBSO has played The Garden of Fand . From the streaming passion with which the violins sang the central lovesong, we shouldn’t have to wait 100 years for the second.

But still, the enduring memory of this concert will be the final bars of Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony. As the CBSO’s strings quivered with quiet rapture and Symphony Hall lit up with sound, Wilson offered the most eloquent possible ripost to those misguided souls who still pin labels like ‘pastoral’ and ‘placid’ on this visionary music. Heartbreaking – and sublime.”

 

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Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “Wilson conducted like he was making up for lost time: driving the music forward in big, surging arcs, pointing up Bax’s thematic connections, relishing the deep harmonic undertow, and, in short, putting the emphasis of this symphonic poem firmly on the “symphonic”. That’s important to say because purely as sound, it was gorgeous. Wilson let all the art nouveau details of Bax’s Celtic seascape swirl and flow, voicing big climaxes so that you really could catch the iridescent gleam of the orchestration and visualise the “sky of pearl and amethyst” that the composer described in his typically florid programme note. Harps glinted, the bass clarinet gurgled and snaked, and in the central love song, the violins let fly with vibrato as wide as the Irish Sea, streaming with passion.

It genuinely did feel like the climax of a spiritual journey Not terribly English? Hardly: few conductors take more care than John Wilson over the sound they draw from an orchestra. The gloriously idiomatic results bring the house down every year at the Proms, when Wilson conducts his own hand-picked orchestra in reconstructed scores from classic Hollywood musicals. But relatively few have commented on the sound he creates when conducting British music with a conventional symphony orchestra. It sounds different, and yet familiar: the wide-grained, flexible string tone; the glowing softness of the woodwinds; the brass by turns mellow and bandstand-brazen. It’s the sound you hear on Barbirolli’s classic recordings with the Hallé, a sound last encountered in the hands of Vernon Handley and the RLPO some time in the 1980s.

That in itself is a little miracle. But it’d be a lifeless exercise in style without Wilson’s freshness and vision – a spontaneous natural musicianship, coupled (on the strength of this concert) to an impressive and deepening grasp of long-range form.”     …

 

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:

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…     “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.”

Benjamin Grosvenor: Grieg

  • Thursday 25th February, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Elgar  Falstaff , 35′
  • Grieg  Piano Concerto , 30′
  • Brahms  Symphony No. 3, 37′

Benjamin Grosvenor’s encore – Dohnányi – Capriccio Op.28 No.6
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Benjamin Grosvenor’s playing has been called “a kind of miracle”, and last time he performed with the CBSO, this 23-year old British pianist held Symphony Hall spellbound. You’ve probably heard Grieg’s Piano Concerto before – but never quite like this! It’s the glowing heart of a concert that begins with Elgar’s colourful portrait of Shakespeare’s fat knight and ends in the romantic sunset of Brahms’s ardent Third Symphony..

 

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “The young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor joined the orchestra for Grieg’s Piano Concerto. It’s easy to understand the work’s enduring popularity, not least because the thematic material is so memorable. I realised that it had been some time since I heard the work and I was glad of that because the work came up very freshly here. That said, I think it would have sounded fresh anyway; such was the nature of this performance. I’ve seem Jac van Steen conduct on several occasions in the past and one of many things that has impressed me is the clarity of his direction. Prior to this evening, however, I don’t recall that I’ve seen him conduct a concerto but that clarity was much in evidence and I’m sure it helped tremendously in shaping a keen and responsive account of the orchestral accompaniment.

Grosvenor himself was very impressive. In the first movement he proved himself well equipped for the bravura passages but I was even more taken with the poetry in his playing. The cadenza offered an excellent illustration of both facets. He began it with reflective musing and then gradually increased the power of his playing so that there was a sense of the heroic as the cadenza reached its climax. The lovely slow movement began with gorgeous string playing; the sound was velvety and deep. Grosvenor was delicate and pensive in the early pages of the movement and then later invested the music with plenty of romantic expression. There was fine energy in the dancing music with which the finale opens. Later that tune was gorgeously introduced by principal flute, Marie-Christine Zupancic, her tone making the music sound like a draught of clear spring water. When his turn with the tune arrived Grosvenor relished it, yet there was no self-indulgence to his playing. After a return to the energetic material the apotheosis of the Big Tune had suitable grandeur but was not overblown either by Grosvenor or his conductor.

Following this excellent performance I noticed that it was not just the audience who showed their appreciation: Jac van Steen and the CBSO applauded Grosvenor with genuine enthusiasm. He gave us short, dexterous encore”     …

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “Especially welcome was the inclusion of Elgar’s symphonic study, Falstaff. Elgar was an admirer of Richard Strauss’ works, his tone poems in particular. When I hear Falstaff I can’t help but think of the similarities between the antics of Falstaff and Don Quixote from Strauss’ eponymous tone poem. In both works the protagonist is mostly represented on the cello and this is surely no coincidence. Elgar’s Falstaff is the more serious portly knight from Shakespeare’s Henry IV rather than the comical character featured in the The Merry Wives of Windsor. Though the composer denied overt programmatic content, the music is structured around various episodes featuring Sir John Falstaff and his companion, Prince Hal – heir to the throne.

Jac van Steen wasted no time in establishing Falstaff’s character in musical terms with a confident, swaggering start. It was a joy to see a conductor so very much at home with this orchestra and an orchestra so much at home in this repertoire. Various members of the orchestra excelled in bringing the cowardly knight to life, from a particularly throaty contrabassoon to rude-sounding horns. Later, in the Boar’s Head episode it wasn’t hard to imagine drunken goings on with cantankerous solos from the principal cellist and bassoonist. Van Steen paced the piece excitingly throughout, yet he still found time to appreciate these delicious details in the score.

Grieg’s Piano Concerto is so well known as a concert hall favourite and showpiece that it helps to be reminded what a rich and substantial piece of music it is. Benjamin Grosvenor dispatched those famous opening chords in a serious yet unpretentious manner that was to characterise his interpretation of the piece. After a buoyant orchestral introduction, Grosvenor was off like a rocket. This first movement was always mobile, never rhetorical in his hands. He is an especially attentive musician, always taking care to listen to players accompanying him in the orchestra.”     …