BBC Prom – Beethoven Symphony No 9

Royal Albert Hall

Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP 0845 401 5045

Sunday 19th July, 7.30pm

Price: £9.50 – £46
Andris Nelsons Marco Borggreve057.

Featuring

Programme

  • Beethoven Overture: The Creatures of Prometheus, 5′
  • Woolrich Falling Down (London premiere) , 15′
  • Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor, ‘Choral, 67′

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Due to personal circumstances, Dmytro Popov has sadly had to withdraw from this concert. We are grateful to Pavel Cernoch for taking his place at short notice.

Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony is a celebration of human endeavour, as is his ballet score The Creatures of Prometheus. This is Latvian Andris Nelsons’ final concert with the CBSO as Music Director. John Woolrich’s dark, sardonic contra-bassoon concerto was written for the CBSO’s own contra-bassoonist Margaret Cookhorn.

This concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3

Available on iPlayer here – until 18th August 2015

CBSO Storify here

Chorus Soprano Eluned Mansell writes about performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the BBC Proms with the CBSO”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Nelsons’ performance, though – echoing the one he gave last autumn as part of his complete Beethoven cycle in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall – would have been blazingly memorable whenever and wherever it had taken place. There were all the hallmarks that have become so recognisable over the seven seasons he has been in Birmingham, especially the meticulous attention to detail and the knack of making it all seem utterly fresh, combined with an unwavering certainty about what the music’s ultimate destination is. The dynamic range of this performance was huge – the pianissimos intense, the fortissimos immense – whether in the first stirrings of the opening movement, the furious rush of the scherzo or the careful building of the finale, layer by layer, towards its huge choral affirmation, in which Nelsons’ gestures seemed to invite the whole Albert Hall into celebrating along with the CBSO Chorus and soloists Lucy Crowe, Gerhild Romberger, Pavel Černoch and Kostas Smoriginas.”     …

*****

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Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “At first, it felt understated; but as Nelsons let inner voices sing out, and gave space for the woodwinds and horns to be their gloriously musical selves (has Marie-Christine Zupancic’s flute ever sounded more sweetly, poignantly expressive?), you began to sense a massive, tidal undercurrent of symphonic movement. By the time the CBSO Chorus was blazing with white-hot fervour through Beethoven’s final chorus, the build-up of emotion was almost unbearable. With its glowing sound, cosmic vision and quiet, piercing moments of both pain and joy, it’s tempting to say that this felt like a Ninth filtered through Parsifal – “made wise through compassion”. It certainly proved just how far Nelsons and the CBSO have come together since 2007, and how all the energy, spontaneity, and mutual affection that this orchestra and conductor have shared since day one – and which was pouring off the stage tonight – has matured into a great artistic partnership, cut heartbreakingly short.”

*****

Blog post by Richard Bratby:

Click here for full blog

…     “It was one of those occasions where personal emotion takes precedence over critical detachment – something you’ll only really understand if you’ve been in Birmingham for the last 8 years. I’m not a fan of Beethoven’s Ninth: last night, though, I heard it say something new, surprising and very moving. There’s absolutely no sense that the CBSO / Nelsons relationship has run its natural course – I’ve never seen an orchestra and conductor have so lengthy a honeymoon, and last night’s performance made it sound as if the relationship is only now reaching its artistic peak. The loss of Nelsons is bitterly felt in Birmingham. It’s untimely, to say the least, which made last night a doubly poignant occasion.”

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Review by Sebastian Scotney, ArtsDesk:

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…     “The virtues of Nelsons’s way with Beethoven had been there from the very start of the concert, with the short, early overture to the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus. He took it, on this occasion, surprisingly fast. It had humour, sparkle and charm, and made the very most of the contrasts of loud and soft. Nelsons has a way of crouching and reining himself in, of making himself almost invisible in quieter passages, and then presenting audience and orchestra with a far taller and more imposing version of himself when the volume and intensity are higher. The Prometheus overture was just a small-scale foretaste of what would be offered with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The performance of this infinitely complex work seemed to evolve naturally and organically. In the first movement the build-ups from very quiet to very loud were organic, accretive, totally convincing, the sense of landing harmonically always just right. In the second movement Nelsons’s gestures were a delight. Phrases in the minuet seemed to be treated as people, they were welcomed into the room, and waved goodbye. The trio section was expansive, free with tempo, giving soloists – particularly first horn Elspeth Dutch – opportunities to shine. The string section playing in the third movement was delightful, and this was an occasion when the whole movement cohered with nothing wasted.

The final movement with lower strings flawlessly energetic, and later with soloists (Lucy Crowe, Gerhild Romberger and Pavel Černoch Kostas Smoriginas, pictured right) and chorus in fine balance, again showed the strengths of Nelsons’s approach. He knows precisely how to get the best out of an English amateur chorus, by extracting each and every syllable from their mouths. They even got a jokey visual aid for the word “Götterfunken”. The first involvement of the solo quartet, placed in the chorus at the back of the stage, prompted the only brief moment of tempo-uncertainty of the whole symphony.”     …

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Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

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…     “Then we arrived at the peak itself, Beethoven’s Ninth. In recent years, Nelsons has led the CBSO in an entire Beethoven symphony cycle, which was distinguished by huge, questing energy, as if the music were eagerly searching for its own future. This performance of the Ninth felt different, more majestic and spacious, less concerned to grip us by the throat with sheer rhythmic excitement. The slow movement was luxuriantly slow, and the way each section melted into the next via a change of harmony was beautifully eloquent, like a door opening onto a new landscape. In the Finale, though the jubilant moments were indeed jubilant (thanks to a fine quartet of soloists and the CBSO chorus), it was the reflective moments and impassioned invocation to “join in one embrace, you millions!” which really struck home.”

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Blog post by Mark Berry – Boulezian:

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…     “Nelsons forestalled applause, thank goodness, by moving immediately to the finale. He and the orchestra fairly sprung into and through its opening: very impressive on its own terms, although it would surely have hit home harder, had it been properly prepared by what had gone before. The cellos really dug into their strings too. Nelsons had them and the double basses paly deliciously softly for their recitative; now, a true sense of drama announced itself, expectant rather than merely soft. Bass-baritone Kostas Smoriginas delivered his ‘proper’ recitative, ‘O Freunde …’, with almost Sarastro-like sincerity and deliberation. I liked the way the rejection of such ‘Töne’ was no easy decision. The soloists as a whole did a good job; that there remains a multiplicity of options, and dare, I suggest, a residual insufficiency to any one quartet, says more about Beethoven’s strenuousness of vision and humility before his God than performance as such. The CBSO Chorus, singing from memory, was quite simply outstanding. Weight and clarity reinforced each other rather than proving, as so often, contradictory imperatives. Nelsons imparted an unusual sense of narrative propulsion, almost as if this were an opera, or at least an oratorio: I am not sure what I think of such a conception, but it was interesting to hear it, and there was no doubting now the conviction with which it was instantiated. The almost superhuman clarity of the chorus’s words – ‘Und der Cherub steht vor Gott!’ a fitting climax to that first section – certainly helped. It was fun, moreover, to be reminded of the contrabassoon immediately afterwards. (Was that the tenuous connection with the Woolrich piece?) The infectious quality to the ‘Turkish March’ brought with it welcome reminiscences of Die Entführung aus dem Serail. And the return to ‘Freude, schöner Götterfunken’ proved exultant in that deeply moving way that is Beethoven’s own.”     …

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Review by Melinda Hughes, Spear’s:
Click here for full review
…     “John Woolrich’s ‘Falling Down’ composed for double bassoon and orchestra was written especially for Margaret Cookhorn, the CBSO principal double bassoonist. What a piece, a highly spirited rhythmical onslaught of the senses, and what an instrument, reminiscent of the sounds of the mothership from Close Encounters.With Andris Nelsons conducting this Prom, one could be guaranteed a lively evening. This was his very last concert with the CBSO so it was a fitting farewell. Nelson’s energy and novel expression are very entertaining, yet he can be grand and regal when required, particularly in the hugely sonorous Ninth Symphony. He accentuated dramatic pauses in the music, producing a majestic moments of silence which seemed to fill the Albert Hall. The choir and soloists were in fine voice, particularly soprano Lucy Crowe, whose beautiful timbre simply thrilled me. What a luxurious tone she has. I simply love the Proms.”
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Review by Colin Clarke, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:
Click here for full review
“Andris Nelsons has been Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra since 2008, and this Beethoven Ninth formed part of his farewell for pastures new – Boston and its Symphony Orchestra, to be precise. The programming was intriguing: two works by arguably the greatest master of them all framed an over-long, inconsequential London première.
The Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus is a slim piece, a mere five minutes. But there is something of the core of Beethoven there, concentrated into a perfectly proportioned morsel. Beautiful orchestral balance, pinpoint scampering strings and razor punch to tutti chords characterised Nelsons’ Beethoven; and promised much for the Ninth of the second half.
But first came the London première of John Woolrich’s Falling Down – a “capricho” for double bassoon and orchestra dating from 2009. The soloist, Margaret Cookhorn, is the dedicatee – she also gave the world première of the piece, which was a CBSO commission – and her way with the long, resonant lines exuded confidence. This could have been such an eye-opening piece, and the Stravinskian element to the opening in particular augured well from the pen of a composer whose music in this writer’s experience has so often been characterised by its greyness. Yet the length of the piece far outweighed its invention. Effects abounded, not least antiphonal timpani, and the way that the lower orchestral instruments, such as cor anglais, tuba and trombones, both supported and extended the soloist. The opening gestures move towards the top of the orchestra’s range, from which the piece descends.”     …
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Review by Nahoko Gotoh, BachTrack:
Click here for full review
…     “The second movement was swift and breezy, in fact too breezy so that the scherzo section lost some of its earthiness, and the contrast between the scherzo and the trio became blurred. Here too, Nelsons took the music in longer phrases, moving the music forward, but so mellifluously that the timpani interjections felt too abrupt. It was elegantly played, with some interesting attention to detail, but was this the “Affekt” Beethoven intended in this movement?
Elegant cantabile playing was certainly intended in the sublime Adagio movement and indeed there was beautiful playing especially by the woodwind and the violins. Nelsons took a decidedly Romantic approach and he micro-managed and shaped every single melody out of sheer enthusiasm, but I felt he pulled around the tempo too much (even in the first clarinet entry at the beginning was delayed for effect). In fact, throughout the work, there were some dynamic contrasts and ritardandi that seemed exaggerated.
The work regained momentum in the final movement, joined by the excellent CBSO Chorus and a harmonious vocal quartet of Lucy Crowe, Gerhild Romberger, Pavel Černoch and Kostas Smoriginas. The opening recitatives by the cellos and basses were fluent and eloquent, as was Smoriginas’ solo entry “O Freude”. Interestingly, in the Alla marcia section, Nelsons avoided bombast, taking a lighter approach and making sure the tenor could be heard over the choral forces. In the vocal quartet, Lucy Crowe’s soprano soared and her top B was spectacular. Nelsons controlled and inspired the massed forces and at one point in the first choral climax of “Freude schöner Götterfunken”, he seemed to turn around to the audience as if to say “join us!”. All in all, it was a warm, passionate and lyrical performance – if lacking a little in interpretative depth – to close CBSO’s magnificent chapter with Nelsons.”
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The Birmingham Beethoven Cycle: Symphonies 8 and 9

Thursday 27 June 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Lucy Crowe  soprano

Mihoko Fujimura  mezzo-soprano

Ben Johnson  tenor

Iain Paterson  bass

CBSO Chorus

Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 27′ Listen on Spotify
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (Choral) 67′ Listen on Spotify

It’s been an incredible journey, and tonight Andris Nelsons, the CBSO and our world-class Chorus arrive at Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: the summit of any Beethoven cycle – and some say, the whole of classical music. But there’s a world 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.

A fresh look at Beethoven’s Symphonies – Andris Nelsons & the CBSO Part of The Birmingham Beethoven Cycle, click here to see the full Cycle guide.

Sponsored by BarclaysThe  Birmingham Beethoven Cycle is being supported by Barclays and through the generosity  of Miss Brant, a lifelong supporter of the CBSO who died recently.

Listen online  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010xvfz/episodes/player – available for a week

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “A fluid generosity of beat, unperturbing eye-contact between conductor and players, and sometimes no baton-wielding at all, generated a lithe, open-hearted account of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, apparently the composer’s “little favourite”; though this could never be described as a runt, despite the huge presence of the Eroica symphony and the Ninth.

And the latter,  the first and greatest of all choral symphonies, was delivered with amazing momentum (perhaps we missed a little awe in the cosmic opening movement ) and a genuine awareness of its yearning lyricism.

This is a work fuelled by the horns, whether sturdily proto-Wagnerian, warmly supportive, or, in the adagio , reaching out into the ether, and the CBSO players proved proudly in their element.

As did timpanist Peter Hill, casting great boulder-clouts (Bruckner would remember them 50 years later) in the scherzo , delicately chording at the end of the adagio.”     …

*****

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Review by Rohan Shotton, BachTrack:

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…     “A long pause was taken before the slow movement. The opening chords were feather-light before opening out with gorgeous warmth. The woodwind achieved a similar warmth when they took the theme. Again, beating was a side-issue for Nelsons, whose concern for phrase shaping produced some wonderful moments. When the famous theme of the fourth movement appeared, he maintained a soft legato which gave a tremendous sense of innocence and optimism. Even with the multiple orchestral layers being added, the strong impression was of hope, rather than joy.

The great sense of joy finally burst out to shattering effect at the 6/8 time chorus after an intense fugue. The CBSO Chorus were magnificent, attending to clear diction whilst providing a vast wave of sound. There was a subtle push on “Brüder” to emphasise Schiller’s call for brotherhood. The coda was as thrilling an end to the cycle as could be hoped for, taken at a quick prestissimo and earning a huge ovation, especially for the chorus and their director, Simon Halsey. Even a sleeping guide dog was roused into tail-wagging enthusiasm during the last pages.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “The choral finale was kept on a tighter rein, as if it had more than enough theatrical grandeur of its own. With a fine quartet of soloists – Lucy Crowe, Mihoko Fujimura and Ben Johnson, led off by bass-baritone Iain Paterson – and the CBSO Chorus as secure as ever, the sheer impact of Schiller’s Ode was never in doubt. The Eighth Symphony had been a different matter: the way it sprang bristling into life signalled immediately that this was not a work to be treated lightly, or one that would be out-muscled by its more monumental sibling in the second half. Nelsons and his superb orchestra made sure that every bit of its rhythmic and harmonic detail packed a punch.”

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Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…      “No 9 may be very familiar but it still never ceases to grab an audience by the throat when it is performed live. From the first notes it dives in and never lets go. Through an intense first movement, into a lively second, a more serene third and then into the choral fourth movement, it showcases Beethoven’s brilliance.

Conducted by music director Andris Nelsons, the orchestra was comfortable and confident with the symphony’s challenges, rising to the occasion with plenty of vigour.

The soloists, soprano Lucy Crowe, mezzo Mihoko Fujimara, tenor Ben Johnson and bass-baritone Iain Paterson, blended perfectly with each other and the CBSO Chorus who were busy singing their hearts out.

By its close we were in little doubt that the CBSO and Nelsons have truly grasped Beethoven in all his complexities, depth and wonder.”

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Review by Richard Morrison, The Times (£££):

Click here for full review

Flowers and Fables

Thursday 20 June 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Edward Gardner  conductor

Lucy Crowe  soprano

Sibelius: Symphony No. 3  26′

Lutoslawski: Chantefleurs et Chantefables 16′

Sibelius: Luonnotar 9′

Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 3 28′

Sibelius took the classical symphony and charged it with the freshness and energy of nature itself. Lutoslawski, meanwhile, launched brilliant musical fireworks into the grey skies of postwar Poland. Edward Gardner loves them both, and he begins and ends this concert with two of the twentieth century’s most original – and inspiring – symphonies. In between, something magical happens, as soprano Lucy Crowe re-tells Sibelius’s primal northern myth – and proves that Lutoslawski’s enchanted nursery rhymes aren’t just for children.

Lutoslawski   Centenary 2013: Woven Words by Philharmonia Orchestra.

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

...     “Its successor was taken as a true slow movement, arguably ignoring Sibelius’s tempo marking but with the eloquent main theme possessing the right expressive lilt and the airborne transition into its final return magically rendered. Conversely, the finale unfolded at a relatively swift underlying pace such as brought a palpable emotional surge to its ambivalent initial half – then if what followed lacked the last degree of majesty, Gardner’s handling of its cumulative energy made for a gripping and decisive conclusion.

Some readers may remember the entrancing impression that Lutosławski’s final song-cycle Chantefleurs et Chantefables (1990) made on its first performance at the Proms two decades and more ago. Since then it has attracted a number of the most gifted sopranos – not least Lucy Crowe, whose delicate though never fey approach to Robert Desnos’s playful verse was engaging and affecting in equal measure. Gardner was always mindful to highlight instrumental detail in what is one of this composer’s most alluring scores – its sheer transparency of texture never belying the expressive acuity with which Lutosławski delineates the emotions of the animals, insects and flowers that populate these fanciful poems.”     …

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Review by Christopher Thomas, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “The wit and whimsy of Lutoslawski’s engaging song cycle Chantefleurs et Chantefables could hardly be further from the muscular, aleatoric adventures of his Third Symphony. The French surrealist texts by Robert Desnos used by the composer colour a series of nine fleeting, vignette like songs imbued with abundant charm and a soundworld that places them closer to Britten or Ravel than the Lutoslawski of works such as Venetian Games and Mi-Parti.

Lucy Crowe’s rapid rise to stardom has seen her acquire an enviable reputation as one of the most sought after lyric sopranos around and her natural, engaging stage presence proved finely suited to the images of plants and animals depicted through the eyes of a child. For all their sense of wide eyed wonder, the songs make huge demands on the singer whilst weaving a kaleidoscopic web of accompaniment from the small instrumental forces utilised to breathtaking effect by the composer.

From the flower songs of La belle-de-nuit and La rose to the antics of the tortoise and the alligator, the delicacy and vocal athleticism of Lucy Crowe was remarkable in a performance that clearly found her many a new admirer amongst the Birmingham audience.

If it was a sense of delicate fragility and childlike innocence that Lucy Crowe brought to Lutoslawski’s box of natural delights in Chantefleurs et Chantefables, the contrast with the mysterious, darkly hued tones of Sibelius’s enigmatic Luonnotar could hardly have been more marked.

Crowe’s surety of pitch in her highest register allied with the sheer power of her delivery as Sibelius pushes the voice to its very limits in the storm fuelled central climax of his other worldly, Kalevala inspired tale of earthly creation proved magnificent enough, but it was the haunting, uneasy atmosphere of the close that left the audience in Symphony Hall spellbound. The extended silence in the hall as the final ethereal sounds settled spoke for itself.”     …

Nelsons Conducts Beethoven’s 9th

Thursday 23 August 2012 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0603

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor
CBSO Chorus
Lucy Crowe soprano
Mihoko Fujimura mezzo-soprano
Toby Spence tenor
Georg Zeppenfeld bass

Brahms: Nänie 15′
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (Choral) 67′ Listen on Spotify

From tragic opening to climactic, world-embracing “Ode to Joy”, Beethoven’s Ninth has never been just another symphony – it’s an emotional experience with the power to change lives. Every performance is a special occasion, but Andris Nelsons’ first Birmingham performance of the Ninth promises to be in a class of its own, and a landmark in his artistic partnership with the CBSO. This isn’t only an extraordinary upbeat to our new season, it should be one of Birmingham’s musical events of the year. Be sure to book early. www.cbso.uk

Review by Diane Parkes, BehindtheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “Also known as the Choral Symphony, the Ninth is powerfully life affirming, with its music echoing and enriching the message of Schiller’s Ode to Joy which is the climax of the work.

And there was no doubt this was a joyous performance. CBSO music director Andris Nelsons, conducting the Ninth in Birmingham for the first time, seemed to love every minute, egging the orchestra on to rise to the challenge of the piece.”     …

Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “When the long arching string melody was interrupted by fierce timpani and brass the shock was palpable, as if we were being peremptorily summoned back from delightful dream to mundane reality.

This performance was filled with many such memorable moments, in the opening movement of immense power and a scherzo both sinister and bucolic.

 The finale surged and thundered, helped by four excellent soloists – Lucy Crowe (soprano), Mihoko Fujimura (mezzo-soprano), Toby Spence (tenor) and Georg Zeppenfeld (bass) – and the hundred-strong CBSO Chorus. Hearing this chorus in full cry is a tonic for the soul – they really did deliver a “kiss for the whole world” as Schiller’s text requests.”     …     ***** 
 
 
 
Blog post by Alex Jones:
 
Click here for full post
 
…     ” Nelsons is a brilliant conductor, I couldn’t take my eyes off him; he conducted the orchestra with his whole body: his face was bright with emotion, expressions changing with each bar, sometimes stern, sometimes pleading, sometimes joyous, often he would clench his baton in his fist and literally jump up and down like a mad general, the next moment he would be leaning over his score reaching into the string section as if he was pulling the music out of the instruments himself; energetic and personal summed him up – he was living the score, feeling the nuances, experiencing them and translating them into sublime sounds – amazing.”     …