Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass

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Thursday 5th March 2015 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor
Luba Orgonášová  soprano
Sarah Connolly  mezzo-soprano
John Daszak  tenor
Clive Bayley  bass
Thomas Trotter  organ
CBSO Chorus  

Berlioz: Overture – Roman Carnival 9′
Berlioz: Les Troyens: Royal Hunt and Storm 10′
Berlioz: La Mort de Cléopâtre 21′ Watch on YouTube

Janácek: Glagolitic Mass 45′
Listen on Spotify

“The fragrance of the trees was like incense,” declared Leos Janácek. “I felt a cathedral grow from a great forest.” And with its jubilant trumpets, thundering organ and raw, unbuttoned lust for life, there’s nothing quite like the Glagolitic Mass. The CBSO Chorus loves to sing it, and Edward Gardner gets the pulse racing straight away, with three barnstorming showpieces by Hector Berlioz. Hold tight!

This concert has been made possible with support from an anonymous donor through the Keynote Programming Fund.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post

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…     “The Royal Hunt and Storm from Berlioz’ huge opera The Trojans made dramatic use of Symphony Hall’s spatial resources, brass scattered around the auditorium, Gardner drawing from the orchestra both pounding hooves and subtle sylvan delicacy.

But the real gem in this collection came with the early competition cantata La Mort de Cleopatre, where the gauche Berlioz painted vivid orchestral colours, pre-quoting the Carnaval Romain along the way, macabre both in timbre and harmony, and ending with a totally chilling death-rattle (Berlioz had once worked in a mortuary before fleeing into the arms of music).

Gardner conducted with flexible fluency and empathy with mezzo soloist Sarah Connolly (actually unacknowledged in the programme-book), singing with immense control and evenness throughout her range, and communicating the queen’s despair with self-possessed dignity.

Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass is as much a paean to nature’s life-force as it is to God.

It blazes with the earthiness of one late work (the Sinfonietta) and the pantheism of another (The Cunning Little Vixen).”    




Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “Sarah Connolly then joined the orchestra for the cantata La Mort de Cléopâtre. This was the piece that Berlioz submitted in 1829 as his third attempt to win the coveted Prix de Rome. The judges were renowned for their collective conservatism and so, since Berlioz didn’t trouble to dilute his adventurous style, the entry was unsuccessful. (The following year Berlioz submitted a somewhat more compliant composition and finally won the prize with the cantata La Mort de Sardanaple.) La Mort de Cléopâtre may not be top-drawer Berlioz but it’s well worth hearing and, my goodness, the music made a strong impression in this performance. The benefits of having a soloist and conductor who are highly experienced in the opera house were plain to hear. Sarah Connolly gave a gripping and completely convincing portrayal of the shamed, tragic queen, dishonoured and so doomed to die by her own hand. Her singing was intense and highly dramatic yet neither the sense of line nor her lustrous tone were ever sacrificed on the altar of drama. She was magnificent in the central Méditation (‘Grands Pharons, nobles Lagides’) and the way in which she almost whispered the queen’s last phrases was utterly compelling. Her performance was a riveting piece of musical acting. Edward Gardner matched her achievement, bringing out the highly original sonorities of Berlioz’s score and supporting his singer at all times. The very end, where bare-textured strings illustrate Cléopâtre’s death itself, was arresting. The astonishing originality of a passage such as that – and many others in the score – must have had the Prix de Rome judges calling for the smelling salts.     […]

[…]     As it was, Gardner was pretty persuasive in the familiar version of the score. Janáček’s pungent wind and brass writing registered extremely well – and there was a thrilling contribution from timpanist Matthew Perry – while the rhythms were crisply articulated throughout the performance. All the dramatic and exciting passages made an impact but the delicate side of this vibrant and colourful score was put across with equal success. All departments of the CBSO, with guest leader Charles Mutter deputising for an indisposed Laurence Jackson, responded as keenly to Gardner’s direction as they had done in the Berlioz items.

 A strong solo quartet had been assembled. It’s as well we’d had the chance to admire Sarah Connolly in Berlioz for Janáček confines the alto soloist to a fairly small contribution during what is in the Latin usage the Benedictus and a slightly fuller part in the Agnus Dei. Predictably, Miss Connolly was excellent in these pages. The bass has a bit more to do and Clive Bayley was firm of tone and projected strongly. The main solo parts are for the soprano and tenor.  Luba Orgonášová has the right timbre and vocal presence for this music and she impressed me. So did John Daszak who was not daunted by Janáček’s testing tessitura – Daszak’s profession of faith in the holy and apostolic church towards the end of the Creed was the thrilling moment that it should be.

 There is a fifth soloist in this work: the organist. Thomas Trotter gave a tremendous display, coming into his own completely in the wild organ solo which is the penultimate movement.  It was very exciting to hear that solo on the Kleist organ of Symphony Hall and, in a commanding and virtuoso performance, Trotter drew a wide range of sounds and contrasts from the mighty instrument.

 There probably isn’t a British choir that’s more familiar with this work than the CBSO Chorus – I think they first performed it well over thirty years ago. Their familiarity certainly showed here. Expertly prepared by Julian Wilkins, the choir sang with the tremendous assurance, flexibility, agility and depth of tone that we’ve long associated with this excellent choir.

 This was a fine performance of Janáček’s extraordinary score, which remains extraordinary no matter how often one hears it. It set the seal on a stimulating evening in Symphony Hall.”

Bluebeard’s Castle

Wednesday 2 July 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Edward Gardner  conductor
Michelle De Young  mezzo-soprano
Gábor Bretz  bass

Janácek: Sinfonietta 25′
Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (sung in Hungarian with English subtitles) 59′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

“In wars outside the blood runs redly / Here is something far more deadly / Ladies and gentlemen.” Bluebeard’s castle has seven doors. Judith is determined to open them all. But some questions are best left unanswered… Edward Gardner, music director of English National Opera, brings all his sense of theatre to Bartók’s dark fairytale, and brings up the curtain with Janácek’s ear-tingling Sinfonietta. Imagine 14 trumpeters blasting the roof off – now experience that ultimate sonic thrill in Europe’s most brilliant acoustic!




Review by Peter Marks, Bachtrack:

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…     “It’s a piece that seems to work well in the concert hall, though Gardner added some clever theatrical touches to the performance. The prologue was spoken by a disembodied but amplified voice (surtitles being a definite boon throughout) then singers, Michelle DeYoung and Gábor Bretz emerged through a creaking door as the ominous lower strings opening played out on stage. The castle’s sighs were creepily reproduced through speakers in the hall, whilst the offstage brass situated in the upper rear balconies provided a thrilling sense of surround sound at the astonishing point in the score when the fifth door is opened to reveal Bluebeard’s kingdom in all its glory. At this point, the collective goose pimples were palpable!

The singing was of the very highest quality. DeYoung, partly because of her register, was consistently audible even in the loudest moments of Bartók’s colourful score while Bretz was occasionally overpowered in this respect. DeYoung’s expressions were a masterclass in their own right, constantly conveying Judit’s feelings as they cycled between foreboding, desperate hope and grim realisation. Bretz was a still, sinister presence on stage, thoroughly at ease singing in his native Hungarian.

Marshalled by Gardner, the CBSO gave their all. Bartók’s score growled and glistened as it should. This was a thoroughly engaging performance in which you could have heard a pin drop in the quieter moments, not least the telling silence that followed the final note before the rapturous applause began.”




Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Edward Gardner conducted a performance of staggering virtuosity from the CBSO, from ferocious brass and percussive power to subtle Debussy-like musical impressionism.

The radiant C major outburst as the castle’s fifth door opened – impressively supported by the thunderous organ – was exactly the coup-de-theatre Bartok wanted. Gábor Bretz (who also performed the prologue) was a young virile Duke for whom his new bride Judith’s attraction is as much erotic as pecuniary.

The Hungarian’s rock-steady bass was ideal for this largely declamatory role, but he used it with tenderness when needed. Judith can be just an annoyingly inquisitive shrew unless sung with the subtlety Michelle deYoung brought to the part, combined with a powerful voice never overwhelmed by Bartok’s huge orchestral forces.”     …




Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Certainly the music is all that’s needed in a performance as fine as the one that closed the CBSO’s season at Symphony Hall, with the orchestra’s principal guest conductor, Edward Gardner. The orchestral sound was sumptuous, overwhelmingly massive when required, and other than delaying Bluebeard and Judith’s appearance on-stage until the recorded spoken prologue had finished, there was no attempt at any kind of concert-hall staging. Gábor Bretz and Michelle DeYoung stood and delivered superbly well. Bretz was not all the monstrous Bluebeard of myth, but a sadly resigned, rather touching figure, his mysterious nobility captured in the dark richness of his voice and its perfectly modulated diction; DeYoung, meanwhile, was passionate, impulsive, and naive rather than calculating.

For the great C major climax at the opening of the fifth door – the moment of the couple’s greatest closeness – the extra brass were arrayed around the auditorium. In the first half of the concert, they had been lined up behind the rest of the orchestra for Janáček’s Sinfonietta; it was a racy, celebratory performance, the perfect fizzy aperitif, for something as weighty and troubling as what followed.”



Review by Christopher Thomas, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “Edward Gardner’s grasp of the opportunities for cranking up the tension of Bartók’s music were evident from the opening bars as the first vision of the castle came mysteriously into view against the ominous tones of the narrated introduction.

His ability to draw the listener into the darkness of Maeterlinck’s portrayal of the destructive frailties of the human mind were brought about through a gradual, entirely compelling yet at the same time almost imperceptible control of the deeply engrained psychological drama within both story and music, whilst the increasing sense of claustrophobia as the performance progressed proved to be masterful in its control of the shape of the music revolving, as it does, around the pivotal opening of the fifth door.

The magnificent vista over Bluebeard’s kingdom revealed by the opening of that fifth door was portrayed with breathtaking power by the orchestra and additional brass, whose antiphonal placing behind the stalls lent the musical picture an added sense of magnificence.

Colorado born soprano Michelle DeYoung emerged as an entirely convincing Judit, with the huge dynamic range of her voice capturing every nuance of the musical drama, at the same time finding the human frailty, initial wonder and the ultimate transformation of that wonder to escalating horror at the depths of Bluebeard’s inner darkness with a vivid sense of atmosphere and presence.”     …



Review by Hilary Finch, Times ££

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CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy

Friday 20 July 2012 at 7.30pm

Birmingham Town Hall

City of Birmingham Youth Orchestra

Michael Seal conductor

Shostakovich (arr. Barshai): Chamber Symphony Op.110a 20′
Janácek (arr. Seal): On an Overgrown Path 20′
Schubert: Symphony No. 9 (The Great) 57′

When 19th-century musicians first tried Schubert’s “Great” C major Symphony, they declared it “unplayable”! So it should be the perfect challenge for the inspirational young players of our superb Youth Orchestra Academy, and a glorious burst of musical sunshine for the start of the summer holidays.

First, though, come two very different modern masterpieces: Shostakovich’s searing musical self-portrait (an arrangement of his Eighth String Quartet), and the enchanted miniature universe of Janácek’s On an Overgrown Path, in a magical new orchestration by CBSO associate conductor Michael Seal. www.cbso.co.uk

Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Shostakovitch’s Chamber Symphony is his Eighth String Quartet given a new slant by violist Rudolof Barshai, therefore strings only, facing and conquering technical challenges. Eerie faintly-recognisable ghostly quotes – typical Shostakovitch testing the Russian regime’s criticisms with poignancy of suppressed and banned snippets and gutsy interjections – scary to play but approached with vigour and confidence. Lovely solo cello from Joss Brookes melded beautifully with final muted strings.”     … 


Duke Bluebeard’s Castle


Fri 21 Oct 7:30pm at Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen conductor
Sir John Tomlinson Bluebeard
Michelle DeYoung Judith
Juliet Stevenson narrator
Nick Hillel director

Debussy Prélude à L’Après-midi d’un faune 10’
Janáček Sinfonietta 23’
Bartók Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (semi-staged) 60’

Please note Measha Brueggergosman will be replaced by Michelle DeYoung.

Fresh from last year’s breathtaking Tristan und Isolde, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia celebrate their return to Symphony Hall with the blazing fanfares of Janácek’s sunny Sinfonietta. But then we step into the darkness of Bluebeard’s castle for a world premiere production: a groundbreaking video installation transforms the Hall into the lair of one of classical music’s greatest villains. Sir John Tomlinson plays the formidable duke whose new bride discovers shocking secrets hidden behind seven doors, each evoked by Bartók’s spine-tingling score.

BBC Music magazine’s Editor, Oliver Condy, recommends tonight’s concert: “Bartók’s great psychological thriller is high up on my list of works that I’d encourage first-time opera-goers to give a try. A gripping evening awaits…” www.thsh.co.uk 

Article on Sir John Tomlinson, by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:
“It was growing up in the heart of industrial Britain which steered one of the great Wagnerians of our time to a career in music.” …

Read More:



Article about the production by Jessica Duchen, Independent:



Philharmonia players blog about Duke Bluebeard’s Castle:


The Making of Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle:



Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:



…     “The parade of images – weeping walls, bloodstained jewels, luxuriant blooms and a final sad parade of the silhouettes of Bluebeard’s former wives – is fine as far as it goes, but entirely superfluous when the performance is as good as it was here. Salonen conjured every orchestral colour from the Philharmonia with tremendous panache – the huge C major climax at the opening of the fifth door was sumptuous – while DeYoung and Tomlinson focused the drama superbly, she a wonderful mix of naivety and obsession, he remarkable in his portrait of cruel implacability and sheer, despairing loneliness.”


Review by Elmley de la Cour, Birmingham Post:



…     “But musically it was excellent. Michelle DeYoung dealt nimbly with Judith’s declamatory lines.

John Tomlinson’s Hungarian sounded wonderful, and, shrouded in his cloak, was every inch the mysterious, tortured duke.

Esa-Pekka Salonen navigated clearly through the work’s abounding details, and the orchestra played well for him, particularly the phalanx of strings.”     …


Review by Christopher Thomas, SeenandHeard MusicWeb:



…     “Nick Hiller’s production and dramatic visuals proved to be nothing short of a triumph, enthralling totally from the very start, whilst it is well nigh impossible to imagine a more chilling, atmospheric and powerful performance than that given by Sir John Tomlinson, Michelle DeYoung and the forces of the Philharmonia. With the production now set to go on tour, this is a Bluebeard not to be missed.”

Telling Tales

Thursday 24 March 2011 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal  conductor
Peter Donohoe  piano

Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel 16′ Listen
requires Real Player
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 22”
Dvořák: The Water Goblin 20”
Janácek: Taras Bulba 25′

Once upon a time… four composers set out to tell a story. Richard
Strauss told the tale of a famous prankster, in some of his cheekiest and
most playful music. Antonín Dvorák turned to Czech folklore, to spin a
spine-chilling fairy-tale complete with storms, goblins and an underwater
wedding. Leos Janácek splashed great buckets of dazzling orchestral
colour all over one of the most savage episodes in Russian history. And
Franz Liszt… well, rumour had it that he was in league with Satan
anyway! Peter Donohoe brings his trademark keyboard devilry to Liszt’s
outrageous Second Concerto. For this evening of orchestral music at its
most extravagantly entertaining, CBSO Assistant Conductor Michael
Seal is your storyteller… so, if you’re sitting comfortably, we’ll begin!

Peter Donahoe’s Encore -‘Les jeux d’eaux a la Villa d’Este’, from Années de Pèlerinage Book 3 by Liszt

Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:


…   “Seal truly captured the haunting eerie tale of Dvorak’s Water Goblin ably abetted by finely-tuned woodwind teamwork, vivid brass and well-balanced top quality string playing.

More death in Taras Bulba with splendid battle scenes and magnificent brass.

Typical high pitched exciting timpani writing and intermittent tubular bells from composer Janácek added to the whole, as did lovely violin solos from Zoë Beyers.”    …

Tchaikovsky and Dvorák

Thu 29 Oct 7:30pm at Symphony Hall

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Jakub Hrusa conductor
Nicola Benedetti violin

Janáček Taras Bulba
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
Dvořák Symphony No 7

Style and authenticity just ooze from the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Dvořák himself conducted this orchestra’s first concert and the highlight of tonight’s programme is his grandly tragic Seventh Symphony. Superstar of the violin, Nicola Benedetti, is a regular visitor to Symphony Hall and joins the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s heart-warming Violin Concerto.

Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:


“Impeccable woodwind, exquisite flute solo and careful accompanying from conductor Jakub Hrusa were perfect partners for muted violin, leading to a formidable finale taken at a spanking pace… 4/5”