The Firebird

Thursday 3rd March, 2016, 2.15pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Tchaikovsky  Hamlet , 20′
  • Saint-Saëns  Cello Concerto No. 1 , 19′
  • Berlioz  Romeo and Juliet – Love Scene , 14′
  • Stravinsky  The Firebird – Suite (1945), 29′

Leonard Elschenbroich’s encore – Lutoslawski – Sacher Variation
A dark kingdom, a troubled prince, and a spine chilling mystery… OK, so Hamlet and The Firebird don’t exactly tell the same story! But they both unleash music of sweeping passion and dazzling colour, just as Romeo and Juliet gave Berlioz a chance to pour out his romantic soul. Nicholas Collon leads a colourful toast to Shakespeare, and partners the award-winning Leonard Elschenbroich in Saint-Saëns’ warm and witty First Cello Concerto.

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet is not heard as often as it should be. It lacks a big, sweeping tune such as one finds in Romeo and Juliet and it’s not as wild and passionate as Francesca da Rimini but it’s still a fine piece. Collon led a very successful performance, establishing a sense of foreboding in the opening pages and then bringing out all the dramatic elements as the music unfolded. There was a lovely oboe solo (Rainer Gibbons) portraying Ophelia and, indeed, in that section the rest of the woodwind were just as fine. I was impressed with Collon’s handling of the score though perhaps just a little more ‘give’ in the piece’s lyrical passages would have been welcome. He obtained excellent, keenly responsive playing from the CBSO. In the brief coda Tchaikovsky’s tragic ending was successfully done, not least because Collon didn’t overdo the emotion; an element of patrician restraint was most appropriate.

The young German cellist, Leonard Elschenbroich joined the orchestra for the Saint-Saëns concerto. It was written in 1872 for the Belgian cellist, Auguste Tolbecque who must have liked the work for I learned from Richard Bratby’s programme note that he was still playing the concerto in public in 1910 at the age of 80. And why would he not have liked the piece? It’s relatively short – about 20 minutes in this performance – but it gives the soloist plenty of opportunities to shine both in virtuoso writing and in lyrical stretches. The three movements play without a break.

It seemed to me that Elschenbroich was very well suited to the concerto. Needless to say, he had the necessary technique to despatch the virtuoso passages with seeming ease. Moreover, the consistently burnished and lovely tone that he obtained from his 1693 Goffriller instrument meant that the many lyrical passages were a delight. Indeed, his tone compelled attention throughout the performance. I especially liked the central Menuet movement. Here the orchestral strings displayed sensitive courtliness in playing the minuet material at the start – and later their woodwind colleagues were equally felicitous. In the meantime Elschenbroich made his countermelodies sing in a most attractive way. The vivacious finale was despatched with high spirits by soloist and orchestra. This was a most enjoyable account of a thoroughly engaging work.”     …

Mahler’s First Symphony: CBSO Youth Orchestra

ThumbnailRaise the Roof

Sunday 22nd February 2015 at 7.00pm

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

CBSO Youth Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor
Denis Kozhukhin  piano

Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 4 20′
Listen on Spotify

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 1 16′
Mahler: Symphony No. 1 56′
Listen on Spotify

Denis Kozhukhin’s encore – Bach – Siloti Prelude in B Minor

Mahler’s First Symphony begins by creating the world – and ends by storming Heaven itself. Well, the CBSO Youth Orchestra likes a challenge, and if you’ve heard our inspirational young players before, you’ll know that under the baton of CBSO principal guest conductor Edward Gardner we’re in for something very special indeed. Twentieth century classics by Lutoslawski and Prokofiev raise the curtain with an explosion of colour.


Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

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…     “The orchestra clearly enjoyed immersing themselves in Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 in D major.  The work appeared under various titles in its early days, from a five-movement symphonic poem to “Titan – a tone poem in the form a symphony”, but Mahler later did away with these. There remains an implied dramatic structure based on Mahler’s own poems Songs of a Wayfarer, with the music describing the hero’s journey from unrequited love via a pastoral setting towards the finality, yet triumph, of death. The band was evidently at home with Mahler’s brilliant orchestration and confidently tackled the subtleties and nuances that brought the landscape and journey to life. The minor-key Frère Jacques theme of the funeral march was particularly effective, with the chance for individual young musicians to shine, from menacing double-bass onwards. The final “triumphal” pages were exactly that, with upstanding brass giving it their all. Then it was time to get the whole crew on their feet for well-earned enthusiastic applause.”

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14 Concert Package,

SoundBite and Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Saturday 9th August

Symphony Hall

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Edward Gardner conductor
Louis Schwitzgebel piano

Stravinsky Petrushka (1911) 34’
Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 1 16’
Harrison Birtwistle Sonic Severance 2000 3’
Lutosławski Concerto for Orchestra 28’


This summer, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain brings its infectious energy and artistry to a programme that bursts with character. As “the most uplifting orchestra in the world” (The Times), the all-teenage ensemble joins Edward Gardner (CBSO Principle Guest Conductor) for a celebration of imaginative music-making.

Experience the colourful storytelling of Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka paired with the dramatic intensity of Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra, two pieces that spin folk tunes into vibrant musical fireworks. On the same journey, light the sparks in Prokofiev’s first Piano Concerto with dazzling young pianist Louis Schwizgebel (BBC New Generation Artist), who won second prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2012.

6.15pm in the Symphony Hall Foyer: hear cutting-edge, fresh new music from NYOGB’s unique resident teenage composers performed by the orchestra’s players. This is a free event.



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.



Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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...     “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.”     …



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.”     …

Paganini Rhapsody

Tuesday 28 September 2010 at 7.30pm

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

Edward Gardner  conductor
Barry Douglas  piano

Rachmaninov: The Isle of the Dead 19′
Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini 23′
Lutoslawski: Variations on a theme by Paganini 10′
Lutoslawski: Concerto for Orchestra 26′

What’s in a tune? Rachmaninov took a devilish little theme by Paganini
and turned it into one of the all-time favourite romantic piano
showpieces. A few years later, in occupied Warsaw, the great Polish
composer Witold Lutoslawski had exactly the same idea. But whether
romantic or riotous, both composers knew how to entertain. Which is
best? You decide, as pianist Barry Douglas tackles both in one bumper
concert. But first, the acclaimed young British conductor Edward
Gardner shows us the darker side of Rachmaninov, before finishing in a
blaze of colour with Lutoslawski’s dazzling Concerto for Orchestra.
Twentieth-century music doesn’t get more exciting – or fun.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…”In The Isle of the Dead his fluent beat allowed all the music’s relentless progress to make its mark.

In Lutoslawski’s Concerto he empowered striking orchestral virtuosity from all departments, shaping the structure of what is really a wonderful, under-appreciated work.

And the Paganini pieces: Barry Douglas was the unassuming but communicative piano soloist in Rachmaninov’s famous Rhapsody and Lutoslawski’s silky Variations.” …