Beethoven Week: The Choral Symphony

ThumbnailRaise the Roof

Sunday 21st September 2014 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Annette Dasch  soprano
Lioba Braun  mezzo soprano
Ben Johnson  tenor
Vuyani Mlinde  bass
CBSO Chorus  

Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 27′
Listen on Spotify

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (Choral) 67′
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Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the summit of any Beethoven cycle – and some might say, the whole of classical music. But there’s a lifetime of experience to live through before we get to that final, transcendent Ode To Joy, and Beethoven’s explosive little Eighth Symphony launches a concert that’s sure to be one of the most talked-about events in Birmingham this year.

Supported by The Mailbox

If you like this concert, you might also like:
War and Peace, Thursday 6th November
Schubert’s Great, Wednesday 14th January 2015 & Saturday 17th January 2015
Brahms and Beethoven, Wednesday 25th March 2015 & Saturday 28th March 2015

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Plaudits first to the glorious CBSO chorus, their discipline making Beethoven’s huge demands on them appear negligible: intonation and enunciation of Schiller’s words wereimpeccable, and the care given to the oft-repeated word‚ “brüder” underlining the aspiration to peaceful brotherhood had its own powerfully cumulative effect. The orchestra, too, was in optimum form: details precisely honed, while also sustaining the almost Wagnerian expansiveness that Nelsons brought to the phrasing. The Eighth Symphony, a world away from the lofty ideals of the Ninth, had carried the same balance of a dancing grace with dramatically explosive bursts of rhythmic energy.

But from the quietly arresting opening, it was the organic progress of the Ninth that held the attention, with the contemplative heart of the slow adagio allowing the choral finale to emerge as a logical conclusion to everything so far. South African Vuyani Mlinde who sang the stirring bass solo, joined with soloists Annette Dasch, Lioba Braun and Ben Johnson, to push the reluctant Nelsons on for a solo bow. Nothing to do with him, he tried to suggest, only the genius of Beethoven.”




Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The cycle culminated in a magnificent ninth: a scherzo of relentless energy, a slow movement wafted in from a beatific realm, an orchestral recitative which really spoke and a well-integrated quartet of soloists in Annette Dasch, Lioba Braun, Ben Johnson and Vuyani Mlinde who were equal to Beethoven’s demands.

And of course there’s the tremendous 130-strong CBSO Chorus, under their associate conductor David Lawrence, their articulation and attack enhanced by having the score in their heads rather than their heads in the score.

If the CBSO is the crowning glory of Birmingham’s musical life then its Chorus is the jewel in that crown.

In Schiller’s Ode to Joy, the celebrants are described as “feuertrunken” (drunk on fire) and often the orchestra played like that – intoxicated by Beethoven’s music, soaring on a natural high which infected the audience with their enthusiasm and brought us all within the enchanted circle for the duration of each work. It was a privilege to be invited in.”


Tristan and Isolde

Saturday 3 March 2012 at 4.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Stephen Gould  Tristan
Lioba Braun  Isolde
Christianne Stotijn  Brangäne
Brett Polegato  Kurwenal
Matthew Best  King Marke
Ben Johnson  Melot / Shepherd
Benedict Nelson  Sailor / Helmsman
Men of the CBSO Chorus  

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (Sung in German with English surtitles) 230′ Listen on Spotify

A wounded knight, a tragic bride, and a love that’s stronger than death. When Richard Wagner premiered Tristan und Isolde in 1865, he changed music forever. You can hearTristan und Isolde as the greatest love story ever told; or you can hear it as an emotional experience so overwhelming that no music will ever sound the same again. But with lifelong Wagnerite Andris Nelsons conducting a superb hand-picked cast, just make sure you hear this extraordinary concert performance.

The approximate running times of Acts 1, 2, and 3 are 80’, 75’, and 75’ respectively. There will be a one-hour interval after Act 1 and a 20 minute interval after Act 2. Please note the change to the previously advertised interval durations, in response to the needs of the artists.

Find out what our musicians love about this music – watch music director Andris Nelsons and CBSO cello section leader Ulrich Heinen discussing Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde.

To listen to some of the music in this concert, and explore the rest of the season, using our Spotify playlists, click here.

This concert is within the CBSO season and also forms part of Symphony Hall’s 21st Anniversary Festival. It may be booked as part of a CBSO or Birmingham International Season concert package.

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “One of the highlights of Nelsons’ Lohengrin had been Lioba Braun’s Ortrud, and she was the star of this performance too, not in the role of Brangaene, in which first made her name in the 1990s, but as Isolde. Feisty and fierce in the first act, meltingly tender in the second, she sang the final act’s Liebestod with mesmerising, rapt containment.”     …

Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

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…     “And yet these things took on a human glow, thanks to conductor Andris Nelsons’s wonderful pacing of the score. He seized on the drama’s essential conflict of fevered desire and yearning for oblivion, and made it vividly real in musical terms. Flexibility of tempo was the keynote, a quality evident in Nelsons’s masterly shaping of the Prelude. It issued out of nothingness in groping, hesitant notes, and constantly pushed and fell back in speed. Nelsons shrewdly drew back at the climax, opening the way to the drama to come.”     …

Blog review by Intermezzo

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…    ” It’s not exactly news that Andris Nelsons is an exceptional Wagner conductor. Everything comes down to his grasp of detail. Those broad sweeps and surges are built up from finely judged tempos and infinitely graded dynamics. Not a note passed unconsidered; the music was constantly alive. A halting, reticent overture hinted we might be in for a meditative interpretation, but once the story got going, a powerful theatrical pulse started beating. Symphony Hall’s warm acoustic magnified a sumptuous and often thrilling sound, with chorus and sometimes soloists placed above and behind the orchestra to make the most of the hall’s spatial qualities.”     …

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The orchestra relished the opportunity to reveal what a responsive, flexible, sonorous and delicate opera orchestra it is      […]

[…]     And the singers were uniformly magnificent: Lioba Braun such a warm-voiced Isolde, her Act One Narration well-paced, her Liebestod building to a cathartic climax, and with such vivid body-language; Stephen Gould’s well-supported tones much less barking than some other heldentenors, and so sweetly nuanced; Matthew Best’s King Marke sorrowingly authoritative; Christianne Stotjin a Brangaene of genuine personality, her watch-tower warnings shimmering with moonlit mystery: Brett Polegato conveying all of Kurwenal’s bluff decency.”     …

Review by Fiona Maddocks, The Observer:

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…     “a concert performance of Tristan und Isolde, Nelsons’s first. Yet again this young Latvian proved himself among the most exciting and exploratory Wagnerians alive. Yes, that good. He takes immense risks, sometimes slowing the tempo to a near standstill then accelerating with a surge of alert, manic urgency. He taxes his players to the limits of breath or bow control, demanding extremes of volume or, far harder, near silence.

The CBSO, who could surely play the Prelude to Tristan in their sleep but never have the chance to play the entire score, responded with lustrous virtuosity, with special praise to the bass clarinet, cor anglais, trombones and harp. Many of the singers were new to their roles, including Lioba Braun (Ortrud in the CBSO and Nelsons’s 2010 Lohengrin), a mezzo who sounded pale in soprano high notes but who compensated with the intelligence of her reading.”     …    


Review by Rian Evans, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review 

…     “Lioba Braun by contrast was most musical, portraying an Isolde who was totally credible. Spirited and gutsy in the first Act, the body language conveying a great deal without any resort to histrionics, her voice carried warmth and humanity to embody Isolde’s healing gift. In Act Two, the effects of the love-potion were manifest in the sound: Braun produced the most meltingly beautiful tone in the middle of range – a reminder that it was the mezzo role of Brangäne that Braun sang very successfully in the 1990s – but she negotiated the upper range with impunity, only occasionally harsh at the top under duress.      […]

[…] Nelsons’s control was as dynamic as ever: the veiled colours with which he painted the tone, the clarity of details, the force with which the great climaxes were built, albeit of necessity unfulfilled, all demonstrated the a sure touch. Ralph van Daal’s cor anglais solos deserves special mention, always well-focused, and particularly beautifully when playing off-stage in Act Three. In the ‘Liebestod’ Braun realised all that is sublime and transcendent in the score, still sounding remarkably fresh and poised. Her ability to shape the phrasing ensured an expressive immediacy both engaging and moving. It set the seal on a memorable evening.”


Saturday 12 June 2010 at 4.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Hillevi Martinpelto  Elsa
Lioba Braun  Ortrud
Eike Wilm Schulte  Telramund
Lance Ryan  Lohengrin
Gidon Saks  King
CBSO Chorus   
CBSO Youth Chorus   
Kostas Smoriginas  Herald

Wagner: Lohengrin (sung in German with English surtitles) 225′

A maiden in distress, a black-hearted count, a wicked sorceress and a mysterious knight in shining armour… no question, Wagner’s Lohengrin is the ultimate Romantic opera. But it’s not just a stirring tale of chivalry and romance in medieval Europe. Lohengrin is Wagner at his accessible best, filled with music of flamboyant colour and profound beauty. Just weeks before Andris Nelsons makes his hotly-awaited debut at Wagner’s own theatre in Bayreuth, Birmingham gets a one-off preview. With an all-star cast, the full CBSO and CBSO Chorus, and a conductor who loves Wagner above all other composers, this extraordinary evening will be one of the most talked-about concerts in Birmingham this year. Be sure to book early!


Review by Geoff Brown, Times:

…”The CBSO Chorus, CBSO Youth Chorus and gents from the London Symphony Chorus surged through the choral pages with vigour. None could beat Lioba Braun for fusing singing with acting: dressed in heinous black or jealous green, her Ortrud stayed resolutely villainous and wily. There was character even in the tilt of her head. Telramund, her partner in trouble, wasn’t far behind in authority, with the veteran Eike Wilm Schulte in astonishingly young and virile voice. Decibels rang out equally tellingly from the proclamations of Kostas Smoriginas’s Herald, while Gidon Saks easily supplied gravitas as King Henry.” …

Review by Patsy Fuller, Coventry Telegraph:

…”The young Latvian’s drive and passion were obvious – and infectious. He made it clear he had high expectations of his musicians, and CBSO followers in turn had high expectations of him.

Well, they haven’t been disappointed. Since then he has delivered many exciting concerts– but this concert performance of Wagner’s romantic epic has to go down as something truly special. Proof, as if it were still needed, that Nelsons is indeed the man of the moment.

From the opening spine-tingling notes of the prelude, the audience was enraptured.” …

…”Amid rapturous applause and a standing ovation, Nelsons looked drained – not surprising after 225 minutes of thrilling music making.” …

Rating * * * * *

Blog / Review by Onthepast:

…”Nelsons will take Bayreuth by storm, if he plays ‘Lohengrin’ there like he did in Birmingham. The man is a genius. He gives Wagner his romanticism back. ‘Lohengrin’ is full of mass get-togethers, and the music rises to the occasion each time, gaining in excitement, volume and choral power. Nelsons made of these scenes something unbelievably vibrant, colourful and ecstatic. There is no artifice in his style, or rather it is so well disguised that you feel you are getting pure music, as it was always meant to be heard – legend comes alive, and you believe it all for a few hours (as is clear from the above – only for a few hours…). The sheer enthusiasm he conveys is clearly felt and shared by the orchestra, who give their all, and the Birmingham audience clearly love him. Who wouldn’t?” …

Review by Rupert Christiansen, Telegraph:

“In less than expert hands, Lohengrin can prove a tedious affair – Wagner at his windiest – but in this magnificent concert performance presented by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, it gathered an explosive momentum which finally brought the audience to its feet.” …

…”But the best singing of the evening came from Simon Halsey’s chorus, swelling majestically and making Wagner glow in Symphony Hall’s rich acoustic.     Rating: * * * * *     “

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

…”Gidon Saks’s King was tremendously authoritative, Eike Wilm Schulte’s Telramund wonderfully judged and articulated. Lioba Braun’s sexy, scenery-chewing Ortrud threatened to steal the show, but in the end it was Nelsons’s vital control of every element that left the biggest impression.”

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

… “Rehearsals had been many and intensive, and the supple phrasing, bold articulation and depth of tone from the orchestra was even more apparent than when we hear these amazing players after normal rehearsal conditions. Choral projection was as forward and vivid, even in the most quietly articulated passages, as we have come to expect under Simon Halsey’s tutelage.

Lance Ryan’s Lohengrin was a little steely of tone, but totally engaging, not least in his great Act III revelations, Hillevi Martinpelto made much of the somewhat wan character of Elsa, Gidon Saks was a commanding, sympathetic King Henry, Eike Wilm Schulte an incisive Telramund, and Kostas Smoriginas rounded out the two-dimensional role of the Herald to engrossing effect.

But outstanding in this well-complemented team was mezzo-soprano Lioba Braun, her Ortrud a gripping model of evil conveyed by feminine wiles, the strength of her singing in no danger of suffering in this accommodating acoustic.” …

Blog / Review by Intermezzo:

…”Andris Nelsons scored an early winner for Birmingham with a prelude of exquisitely tensile beauty. Unlike Rob Green he let nothing slip from his grasp all evening.  Semyon Bychkov’s brisk, Italianate Lohengrin at Covent Garden last year cast an eye back at the work’s influences. Nelsons instead looked forward to the merged space-time of Parsifal. Lohengrin is one of the least action-packed three and a half hours ever, and Nelsons didn’t try to impose any notion of dramatic momentum. His contemplative tempos explored the music rather than driving it, yet paradoxically it was perhaps the most enthralling, dramatically absorbing rendition I’ve ever heard.” …

Review by Michael Tanner, Spectator:

“In the centre of Birmingham, in Symphony Hall, there was a tremendous performance of Lohengrin last Saturday, with minimal acting, apart from the wonderful imprecations and insinuations of Ortrud. So yet again the most memorable performance of any opera for a long time was not staged at all, and left the audience to do its own interpreting — a sheer blessing.  …

The CBSO covered itself with glory from start to finish, but even more the CBSO Chorus and Youth Chorus sang their mainly glorious music to overpowering effect.” …