Brahms’ German Requiem

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 22nd October, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25, K.503, 30′
  • Brahms A German Requiem, 70′

Francesco Piemontesi’s encore –
Unfortunately, Susan Gritton has had to withdraw from the these concerts due to illness. We are grateful to Eleanor Dennis for taking her place at very short notice.
“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted”. Brahms didn’t believe in God, but he did believe in love, and as he grappled with personal tragedy he created a Requiem intended to comfort those left behind. Andrew Manze conducts our acclaimed Chorus in this most tender of all great choral works, while Francesco Piemontesi rejoices in the sunlight of one of Mozart’s noblest concertos.
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Q&A with Francesco Piemontesi in the Guardian “Facing the Music“.

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Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

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…     “Although the Requiem is some seventy minutes long, there was not a moment when I was not fully engrossed. Beginning with some gorgeously resonant bowing from the basses and cellos, Manze created a tension in the acoustic that he shaped, moulded, folded and manipulated perfectly, remaining undaunted by the magnitude of the work nor by the 180 strong assembly of singers and instrumentalist facing him. Indeed, it was remarkable just how much they trusted him, and he held them entirely in the palms of his hands as he coaxed delicate whispers in pianissimo and sucked out the breath from their diaphragms in majestic and unrestrained fortissimo.

The CBSO Chorus were at their very best. I have seen them a number of times and hold them in the highest regard, but in this piece and under Manze’s baton, they excelled themselves. Each section held its own and the distinction between the alto and soprano voices was especially clear. Yet this was not a concert of an orchestra supporting a chorus, or vice versa, but of two ensembles being played as one. At no point were any voices drowned out by the instruments, and each section played in complete sympathy with the others. The timpani (played by Antoine Siguré) was perfectly weighted in the piano passages and thunderous in crescendo, exactly as it should be. The principal flautist (Veronika Klírová) was making some wonderful sweet lyrical songs from her part, and played particularly beautifully in the final few bars of the fifth movement.

The two principal voices of the requiem, a baritone and a soprano, were provided by Mark Stone and Eleanor Dennis respectively. Stone performed admirably, his lower register seemingly sharing some of the same resonance as the bowed basses and cellos in the opening bars of the first and second movements. His diction was excellent and he projected well, making full use of the acoustics in the hall. Dennis was a last minute substitution for soprano Susan Gritton, unfortunately unable to perform due to illness. Dennis sang the part with quite a heavy vibrato which suited the solemn and melancholic mood, and her performance of the fifth movement was one of the highlights of the evening.”     …

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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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Although the text Brahms employs for his Ein deutsches Requiem is taken from the Old and New Testaments (plus two verses of the Apocrypha) it makes no reference to Christianity as such. This was intentional, giving the work universal rather than national or sectarian appeal. Indeed, after its premiere in 1869, the composer pointed out that he might well have omitted ‘German’ from the title and substituted ‘Human’. And this performance of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Andrew Manze on 22nd Oct 2015 was a human one, reflecting the highs and lows of life.

The piece was inspired while Brahms was mourning the loss of his mother and the first movement Selig sind, die da Leid tragen (Blessed are they that mourn) very much conveyed a feeling of bereavement. The reiterations of Selig sind from the CBSO Chorus were truly blessed; their variations of the Beatitude couplet offering both soothing sympathy and heavenly solace, emotions smoothly aided at times by the oboe of Rainer Gibbons. It was a superb opener: the German text coming across well whether the voices were in unison, the repeated Getröstet (comfort), or in sequence, Die mit Tränen (with tears). The soaring sopranos on denn sie sollen (for they shall) were inspirational. Manze added a marschemässig to the continuing langsam tempo for the second movement Denn alles Fleisch (For all flesh), Antoine Siguré solidly beating out the rhythm. The music drove forward at funereal pace to the texts of Peter and James, before liltingly celebrating the ‘fruits of the earth’.

After the A Section reprise, Manze strikingly burst forth with a triumphant Aber des Herrn Wort (But the Word of the Lord). Mark Stone was imposing enough as the baritone soloist in the next section Herr, lehre doch mich (Lord make me know) although I thought his words from Isaiah more pleading that prayerful. The sopranos of the CBSO chorus led the way in the popular fourth movement Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (How amiable are thy tabernacles). Birmingham is blessed with a richly acclaimed choir, and they once again stole the show on 22nd Oct 2015 with this movement; with Director Simon Halsey seemingly taking a back seat, it was Matthew Hamilton of the Hallé who was credited as Chorus Master, proving he had done his homework well.”     …

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “But it’s a hard sing – though you wouldn’t have thought so listening to the effortless, gold plated CBSO Chorus last Thursday – and, if not handled properly by a sympathetic conductor, can be exhausting to sit through. On this occasion, however, it was not.

From the outset a wonderfully hushed opening chorus showed how alert Andrew Manze is to tone and structure which, as the work progressed, acquired an almost symphonic dimension. Admittedly, he couldn’t do much about the contrived conclusion to ‘Herr, lehre doch mich’ (Mark Strong the robustly articulated soloist) or the cloying sweetness of ‘Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen’ (a waltz in all but name, clearly enjoyed by the choir).

And ‘Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt’, undoubtedly the most cogently wrought of its seven movements, was contoured superbly well by Manze, with clenched-fist energy at the climax and a thrilling concluding panegyric.”     …

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Der Rosenkavalier

ThumbnailPure Emotion

Saturday 24th May 2014 at 4.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Soile Isokoski  Marschallin
Alice Coote  Octavian
Sophie Bevan  Sophie
Franz Hawlata  Ochs
Mark Stone  Faninal
Bonaventura Bottone  Valzacchi
Pamela Helen Stephen  Annina
Elaine McKrill  Marchande de Modes / Marianne
Ted Schmitz  Major Domos / Innkeeper
Ji-Min Park  Italian Tenor
Eddie Wade  Notary / Police Inspector / Servant
CBSO Chorus  
CBSO Youth Chorus  

Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier (sung in German, with English surtitles) 206′

Love conquers everything, so they say… but what about Time? In a fairytale Vienna, the beautiful Marschallin and her teenage lover are about to discover that a single silver rose can turn the world upside down. Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier is an opera that ravishes the ear, then breaks your heart to the sound of a waltz. Andris Nelsons has assembled a truly world-class cast for what is sure to be a highlight of the season, in his first ever concert performance of the sweetest and most sensuous opera of all time.

The approximate running times of Acts 1, 2 & 3 are 75’, 63’ and 68’ respectively. There will be a 30-minute interval after Act 1 and a one-hour interval after Act 2.

“I think this is my favourite piece of music. The music is incredible, so powerful.It’s romantic, passionate, beautiful and achingly sad. Every time I hear the end I get goose-bumps and usually cry. The singers will be wonderful,the story they will tell is a story of love,discovering love, setting a loved one free but it’s also funny and it will make you laugh. It will be such a special evening.” (Jane Wright, Violin)

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If you like this concert, you might also like:

Strauss and Shakespeare, Wednesday 18th June
Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, Thursday 19th June

 

A few reactions….*here*

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Review by LietoFineLondon, WordPressBlog:

Click here for full review

…    As her Octavian, Alice Coote married a beautifully bronzed and shining tone with incredible acting skill. Her comic turn and sense of timing with Ochs was brilliant and combined with the vocal splendour of her singing. There was a warmth and brilliance to her tone that didn’t bleach in the upper ranges and her technique – demonstrated in her ability to scale down her voice when appropriate – demonstrates what a unique and special talent she has.

And Sophie Bevan provided a steely Sophie. In character that is. Vocally she was equally splendid. Her lower and middle range has a beautiful smokiness to it and when she effortlessly rose to stratospheric heights in the Second Act it was breathtaking.

The remaining cast members all performed their roles with great vocal and acting aplomb. Special mention must go to Ji-Min Park’s Italian Tenor (and for his two handed farewell at the end of the evening); to Pamela Helen Stephen’s Annina and to Elaine McKrill’s Marianne Leitmetzerin. And also to Paul Curivici – his bright tenor promises a bright future.

And the final trio – let’s admit it – is often the ultimate reason for attending Der Rosenkavalier. Not only because it is the emotional pay-off we have known was going to happen from the Marschallin’s monologue in Act One, but also because it is the most sublime piece of music Strauss ever wrote.

And in Symphony Hall it was perfection.

Andris Nelsons daringly took the trio at a slower tempo than I’ve heard in a while. But he never lost control of its various strands, unfolding the glorious music with an authority that demonstrated he clearly knew the overall architecture of this opera. And not once did he allow the singers – as is often the case – to drown one another out. Each of the three vocal lines was clear and distinct as he drew them to that crushing climax at the Marschallin’s In Gottes Namen at which point the singers – and the audience – were overwhelmed by the orchestra. As Strauss wanted.

How anything could follow that was impossible to consider but Mesdames Coote and Bevan then performed the most sublime Ist ein Traum, scaling their voices back to the finest pianissimi I’ve ever heard.”     …

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

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…     “The transcendent beauty of the final scenes of acts one and three were most affecting, with Isokoski’s elegance of line controlling both the Marschallin’s emotions and her heightened awareness of the inevitability of losing her lover to a younger woman. Coote’s ebullience and acute sensitivity was crucial to balancing comedy and sadness, and Hawlata as an oafish Ochs gave a vocal tour de force. Milking every possible opportunity, he used both conductor and podium as pivotal points in the stage business.

The trappings of a full-scale production were hardly missed. Mark Stone‘s Faninal was highly impressive, Ji-Min Park shone as the Italian tenor and the CBSO gave even moments of operatic mayhem real clarity. Nelsons, meanwhile, drew luscious textures and transparent detail throughout, his immaculate handling of the sheer bliss of Strauss’s ending eclipsing all else.”

*****

 

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Review by David Nice, ArtsDesk:

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…     “From Act Two onwards, though, the performance fired on all cylinders. You can take the Presentation of the Rose as slow as you like, like Bernstein, and so long as the singers are up to it, the magic will work. As it did here, with Bevan’s ripe sound making hers at times a more voluptuous upper voice than Isokoski’s,even if its slimming to float was not as ecstatic as Lucy Crowe’s for Elder. The second duet, usually cast in the shade, was as luminously other-worldly as I’ve heard it, and with Hawlata waxing ever more boisterous, the shape of the act from its rumbustious climax down to the famous waltz scene went like a dream.

It usually feels strange when our Knight of the Rose takes the last bow, and rarely gets the biggest applause, but mine was certainly that for Alice Coote’s Octavian: full-toned and ardent, effortlessly brilliant at the top of the voice, when needed, but also magically soft from the tenderest exclamation of “Marie-Theres’!” in the breakfast scene right to the final pianissimo. She seemed to be enjoying every minute, too, and kept her femininity with two floaty wraps over a black trouser suit.

Nelsons might have opened up the cuts in concert, but that would have meant experienced singers learning more music, and we did get more of Ochs’s Falstaffian soliloquy before the waltz than at Glyndebourne. But finally we were there at the last hurdle. “It is at the end that a composer can achieve his finest effects”, wrote Strauss of the path to the great Trio and beyond; and Nelsons did that too, with an infinitely velvety cushion of sound for three great voices. Did I shed tears? I had trouble keeping the sobs from bursting into song. The ovation was mostly standing and absolutely ecstatic. That’s the magic of Rosenkavalier, and it doesn’t come more supernaturally bittersweet than this.”

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Review by Andrew H King, BachTrack:

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“The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and their Boston-bound conductor Andris Nelsons have a happy history of presenting opera in concert performance, and Sunday’s Der Rosenkavalier was nothing short of superb. Glorious singing and informed characterisations infused with wickedly witty humour and passionate sensitivity, made for one of the most entertaining Strauss performances I have seen.

Soile Isokoski © Intermusica

Soile Isokoski
© Intermusica

 

Beneath the sumptuous orchestral scoring and masterly vocal writing, Der Rosenkavalier is easily Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s most enduring comic masterpiece. Effectively a comedy of manners awash with genuine romantic sentiment, the plot hangs on the problematic relationships surrounding the four principal characters ranging from the neurotic, aristocratic and adulterous Marschallin, to her cousin, the self-important and obnoxious Baron Ochs, her teenage lover, the boisterous and fickle Octavian, and the pure, sensitive Sophie.

As Hofmannsthal’s poised but melancholy Marschallin, whose misplaced romantic fantasies are untidily hidden behind the bed – it’s all well and good giving her glorious tune to sing, but when it’s time to face the music she is engaging in an emotional relationship with a teenage boy about a third of her age – Finnish superstar Soile Isokoski was the image of respect commanding regal deportment. Always elegant in her Marschallin’s anxiety, annoyance or happiness, Isokoski sang with a clear, focused tone that ultimately failed to secure her Octavian, but won over every man and woman in the concert hall instead. In action, Isokoski was extremely economical and all unnecessary pacing about was eliminated, while useful visual gestures were restrained to the point of being nothing less or more than noble.

The 17-year old Count Octavian was magnificently portrayed by Alice Coote. A gifted actress, Coote filled the hall with full blooded, boisterous comedy and perfect diction as well as remarkable sensitivity. Her familiar rich, warm tone and sheer vocal force displayed some of her best singing across the board from hilarious caricature in her ‘Mariandel’, to poignant sensitivity in duets with the Marschallin or Sophie, and amusing confrontational scenes with the Baron. Sophie Bevan’s young, inexperienced but soon to be enlightened Sophie von Faninal was restricted to a purely ‘vocal performance’ in that she was working from the copy which, even in a concert performance could have achieved more dramatically, but the singing was excellent and Bevan, who gets the highest role of the opera, was phenomenally clear in passages of extended quick-fire diction or soaring melody – I would love to see her act the part on stage.”      …

*****

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Andris Nelsons, as adept in the opera-house as on the concert-platform, drew from his devoted players an account of eloquence and flexibility which did full justice to all the colours and phrasing of Strauss’ miraculous score. Concertmaster Laurence Jackson deserves huge credit, not only for his solo contributions, but also for his marshalling of this huge orchestra; from chamber-music (with the Maggini Quartet) to one of the most febrile scores in opera, Jackson has made a huge journey, and has triumphed every step of the way.

The contributions from Simon Halsey’s CBSO Chorus and Julian Wilkins’ CBSO Youth Chorus were vibrant and effective (the kids especially charming as they bustled around), but best of all was the wonderful team of soloists, from the motley crew of waiters and supernumeraries right up to the stellar principals.

And heading these was Soile Isokoski as the Marschallin, heartbreakingly dignified as she renounced her young lover Octavian to a girl much younger than herself. Isokoski phrased so creamily, and Alice Coote, her Octavian, employed such brilliant body-language as she moved from breeches-part to servant-girl, and back to bearer of the silver rose.”     …

*****

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Blog post by JV, WritingWillChangeYourLife:

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…     “Anyway, musically, it was a superb version. Orchestrally was beyond reproach, with a hall with a great, clean but also a bit resonant, acoustic. [sic] Nelsons did a version quite standard in the choice of tempi, that sounded just right.
Soile Isokoski was the Marschallin, a role who has sang many times [sic](has she recorded it? I’m not aware). Maybe she is a bit old for the role now. Her voice is not a particularly sensuous one, not either a big one (which was a bit of a problem next to the very big voiced Alice Coote, the Octavian). Having said that, she was amazing. Utterly amazing. Rosenkavalier, for me, is a great opera because of its sublimity. [sic] She provided the sublime element. Is there many characters more fully rounded in the history of opera? I cannot think of many, and all the others are from German language operas.
All the other singers were great. I loved Alice Coote, who was fully convincing both vocally and as an actress. Sophie Bevan was a Sophie acted with the score carried around, who stressed in the way she concieved the charcter the awkwardness and childishness in it. There are other ways to do it, but hers was perfectly convicing. [sic]Franz Hawlata was a good actor who improvised, moved around and gave us a fully convincing, even likeable, Ochs, with a voice that without being very big had a nice, rounded sound. Even the Italian tenor, Ji-Min Park, someone I never heard before, was perfect for the role.”     …   [all sic]

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…      “A special cause for admiration was the quality among the lesser members of the cast. As Faninal’s major-domo the young tenor, Ted Schmitz made a tangibly beautiful, strikingly focused sound. Four likely lads – Nicholas Ashby, Paul Curievici, Edward Harrisson and Joseph Kennedy – made a glorious ensemble job of footmen and general factota – Strauss gives them plenty to do. To have singers of the quality of Bonaventura Bottone and Pamela Helen Stephen – who is a character actress to be reckoned with, just as Bottone proffers glorious tenor coloratura – as the intriguing duo provided riches indeed.

Soprano Elaine McKrill made a nice, bossy job of Sophie’s Duenna/chaperone. That was no surprise: she has sung Isolde and Brünnhilde with some of the top conductors in Europe, and was part of both Simon Rattle’s Berlin Philharmonic and Antonio Pappano’s Royal Opera Ring cast.

Simon Halsey’s richly prepared CBSO Chorus had less to do than usual, but came up with all the goods – vital and attentive – as they invariably do; and the CBSO Youth Chorus had fun scaring Hawlata’s creepy Ochs witless with their sneery ‘yahs’ and ‘tee-hee’s’. Indeed, the orchestral flair and rhythmic finesse Nelsons drew forth in the ‘witching scene’ was one of the most perfectly devised moments of the evening. It all made for rich comedy alongside the exquisite beauty and poignancy of the main story.

Of course, it was the great final trio of Act 3 we were all waiting for, and as with everything else about this reading, Nelsons – who can occasionally overegg the pudding – did not disappoint. Resting mostly on a chair to conduct, with oddly relaxing consequences that benefited all, he conjured up timings that seemed perfect, time and again; he made wise decisions about when to ground the baton altogether and focus on his expressive left hand; and his balances were such that sections of orchestra never vied with each other to the detriment of the opera’s glorious dénouement. That was in the hands of, first, Soile Isokoski, perhaps an unlikely teen-tickler but utterly lovely in her expression of the conclusion’s honourable resignation: the epitome of noblesse oblige, by which the Marschallin yields up Octavian to Sophie and youth at last has its way.”     …

 

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Review by Anna Picard, Times: £££

Click here for full review

 

 

 

Belshazzar’s Feast

  • Thumbnail     Raise the Roof

Saturday 26 April 2014 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

John Storgårds  conductor
Mark Stone  bass
William Gardner  treble
CBSO Chorus
CBSO Youth Chorus  

Holst: The Hymn of Jesus 23′
Bernstein: Chichester Psalms 19′
Walton: Belshazzar’s Feast 34′

1931: William Walton takes a huge choir and a massive symphony orchestra, adds a couple of brass bands – and blows English music sky-high. Big, brassy and shamelessly savage, Belshazzar’s Feast caused outrage back then, and it still knocks you backwards today! It’s a stunning showcase for the CBSO’s famous choruses; and John Storgårds gets things buzzing with two joyous choral classics by the composers behind West Side Story and The Planets. We think you’ll love them.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Der Rosenkavalier, Saturday 24th May
Mozart’s C Minor Mass, Thursday 26th June
Bluebeard’s Castle, Wednesday 2nd July

http://www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “Mark Stone sang the baritone role here, perfectly complementing the chorus and occasionally slowing down the action for a moment of reflection.

By its rousing Alleluias at the finale, there was no doubt that the chorus was thoroughly enjoying tackling the piece, which is not the easiest to carry off well.

There was also plenty of life in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. Ever the showman, Bernstein may have taken the words from the Biblical Psalms but at times the pieces sound more akin to a music hall show than a church.

The Lord is My Shepherd has plenty of moments of calm and was beautifully sung by Trinity Boys Choir member William Gardner. But Bernstein quickly introduces a riot of percussion so we can almost imagine the chorus taking to the stage to dance in a West Side Story like showstopper. It was also a great opportunity for the CBSO to get to grips with lots of fun and exuberant music.”     …

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “When we get to Sitwell’s hymnic bit (‘God of Gold…God of Wood…God of Brass) – slightly improbable, but huge fun – we are saturated by a kind of corrupt Benedicite. Alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and contrabassoon get their look in; James Burke’s clarinet positively screeched with impropriety. Percussion snaps and blips, and clops from wood blocks, abound. A riot of (as the notes put it) ‘onomatopoeic’ colour. No wonder the Lord (Jahweh – on our side) took a dim view of it all.

The resplendent additional brass (Beecham’s idea: here two septets, I believe, arrayed along both sides, high up) that toasts Belshazzar’s bluffing celebrates God’s inevitable triumph. Weighed in the balance, the oriental despot meets his  sticky end (double basses, low woodwind, flibbertigibbet flutes and piccolo see him off with an almost Bartókian atonal savagery – shades of Bluebeard.)The full-blooded chorus remained splendid thereafter, though Walton doesn’t: the penultimate (or middle of ultimate) section sounds like the thinnest of note-spinning. Yet at ‘Then trumpeters and pipers are silent, and the harpers have ceased to harp…’ he redeems himself, writing for them an alluring sequence like some succulent church anthem by Leighton or Hewitt-Jones – or Walton himself (The Twelve).

The most relishable, perhaps thrilling achievement of Storgårds’ conducting of the Walton came at the culmination, where in the final build up or recap he has to maintain a firm four in a bar while the bravado chorus sings effectively in three. The result produces excitement of almost fugal intensity, without being remotely banal. As the composer pops in a few whole tone scales to underline their whooping, he must have been feeling pleased with himself; for we are treated to a distinct burst – a sneak preview – of his First Symphony (which he was poised to embark on). Either he thought it a jolly good idea, and reused it, or his symphonic notepad jottings were already getting crammed.”

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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“It’s many, many years since it has been my privilege to hear a concert as joyous as this one: three works, all with a religious impulse, and each approached from a different direction.

Full marks all round, but primarily to Simon Halsey’s remarkable CBSO Chorus celebrating 40 years of existence, and delivering Gnostic mysticism, Old Testament blood and guts, and Hebrew fervour (in the original language).     […]

[…] Storgards drew a thrilling reading from all these forces, chorus projecting with their customary clarity of diction, orchestra taut and rhythmic, and baritone soloist Mark Stone the most authoritative I have ever heard him. For technical nerds such as me, his maintenance of pitch in the lengthy unaccompanied passages was exemplary. This was an exhilarating performance.”

*****

Britten Centenary: Peter Grimes

Part of A Boy Was Born and Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Thursday 26th September 2013

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Vladimir Jurowski conductor

Stuart Skelton Peter Grimes

Pamela Armstrong Ellen Orford

Alan Opie Captain Balstrode

Pamela Helen Stephen Auntie

Malin Christensson, Elizabeth Cragg Nieces

Michael Colvin Bob Boles

Brindley Sherratt Swallow

Jean Rigby Mrs Sedley

Mark Stone Ned Keene

Brian Galliford Reverend Adams

Jonathan Veira Hobson

London Voices

Daniel Slater director

Britten Peter Grimes 150’

This concert has a running time of c.3 hours including one 20 minute interval.

In 1945, Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes blew through British music like a blast of fresh salt air, and this elemental drama of a man standing alone against a tight-knit community is still arguably his finest achievement. In Britten’s centenary year, Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic and a wonderful cast in a concert performance of an opera that never loses its power – or its heart.

Oliver Condy, Editor of BBC Music Magazine explains why he has recommended tonight’s concert:

There’s little argument that Peter Grimes is Britten’s greatest opera, if not his most brilliant work: a haunting and disturbing opera yet one that’s rich and frequently very beautiful. Birmingham may be landlocked, but there’s no doubt this incredible cast will transport you straight to the wild shores of Suffolk among the embittered, suspicious townsfolk of the fictional Borough.

www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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“Britten’s operas are everywhere this centenary year, so the prospect of a concert-hall outing for Peter Grimes, even one with Vladimir Jurowski conducting the London Philharmonic, wasn’t necessarily something to get too excited about. But sometimes even performances of works that you know very well, and have heard and seen countless times, can take you completely unawares and emerge with unexpected force. This was one of those occasions.

This turned out to be more than a concert performance, too, but a semi-staging in costume (casual, more or less present-day) – directed very economically and effectively by Daniel Slater with a set made of ropes by designer Alex Doidge-Green – that made full use of the Symphony Hall platform. The sound was wonderfully vivid, and every morsel of Jurowski’s interpretation – its cool, precise clarity interspersed with climaxes of frightening intensity – came across fiercely.”     …

*****

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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“It has become traditional for Symphony Hall to present a blockbusting event to launch each year’s new Birmingham International Concert Season.

This time it was a concert performance of Britten’s Peter Grimes as part of the composer’s centenary celebrations, and the result at the end of a lengthy evening was a standing ovation.

In fact there was much resourceful stage-movement (Daniel Slater the shrewd director) in front of, around, and behind Vladimir Jurowski’s excellent London Philharmonic Orchestra, Tim Mascall masterminded atmospherically subtle lighting, and Alex Goidge-Green’s design dressed the large company in approximately contemporary gear and made effective use of a tow-rope ranged across the stage.

The chorus is a huge protagonist in this opera of bullying persecution (as are so many of Britten’s), and London Voices were enthusiastically in character, each in individual role.

It’s just a pity that they were clutching scores all the time.

In a large cast, Stuart Skelton was simply heartbreaking as a shambling, bewildered Grimes, implying derangement in this lonely fisherman, his vocal flexibility allied to despairing body-language.”     ,,,

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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Knitting it all together were the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowski their Principal Conductor, another immense contribution. Jurowski’s opera experience (Komische/Glyndebourne) showed with his sympathetic accompaniment of the soloists, while his handling of the six interludes generated a rich symphonic poem characteristic. In Dawn, the flutes of Florian Aichinger and Stewart Mcilwham combined exquisitely with the strings led by Peter Schoeman to produce the familiar composite timbre that opens the first of the Four Sea Interludes. Jurowski painted a graphic picture from Britten’s tonal and atonal mix. The LPO gave a cacophonous reproduction of the Storm themes in Interlude II, noted for Britten’s use of the Phrygian mode to symbolise the inner angst of Grimes. Watching Jurowski handle the constantly changing rhythms of Sunday Morning revealed a conductor on peak form. The Passacaglia provided further musical evidence of the multi-faceted personality of Grimes, its complex ground bass affording a background for the dark viola solo of Hung-Wei Hang. The upper woodwind spikes penetrated the stuttering chorale of Moonlight while the Fog cadenza had sanity-destroying eeriness.

Many concert performances of opera are just that: great sounds (particularly within such wonderful venues this Birmingham one) but without a feel for the action. Although there were no sets as such, director Daniel Slater introduced sufficient nautical elements to ensure his production of Peter Grimes really came alive. The ongoing movement of both the Borough community and featured residents (free of any unwieldy scores) had clearly been thoroughly rehearsed, resulting in a smooth and natural sequence of events that moved the narrative forward. There was judicious use of props – particularly the boy’s jumper and a heavy gauge white rope. The use of the capstan rope made any visible picture of Grimes’ fishing vessel unnecessary: in I.i Balstrode took the posture of anchor-man in a tug-of-war to haul in the boat and at III.ii when persuaded to scuttle the craft, the rope slithered off stage, gathering speed as the boat was claimed by Davy Jones. The sight of Grimes crossing the stage carrying the body of the boy in his arms was another dramatic highlight.

This was an exhilarating opening to the 2013/14 Birmingham International Concert Season. This was indeed concert opera with a difference, and in a different class. What a shame the Symphony Hall was not filled to capacity.”

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Review by Alexander Campbell, ClassicalSource:

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“This, the first event of the Birmingham International Concert Season, proved to be exceptional both from a musical and dramatic perspective bringing facets of Benjamin Britten’s operatic masterpiece prominently to the fore. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, in Symphony Hall’s bright and clear acoustic, provided some outstanding playing and many felicities that might lie dormant in an opera-house pit were here brought into strong relief. Britten’s careful use of percussion effects registered as they seldom do even on recordings. Even the ‘Interludes’ sounded freshly minted.  There was excellent use of the acoustics for the off-stage band at the start of the final Act, and likewise the distant voices that interrupt or augment Grimes’s delirium in the same Act. Vladimir Jurowski’s pacing was exemplary; he seemed to relish the lighter moments of the work giving them space, and yet there was no absence of the elemental – for the weather plays a critical role as a protagonist in this piece. The Borough’s inexorable descent into vengeful fury was tellingly handled.

The cast was strong. Stuart Skelton‘s Peter Grimes, familiar from ENO and a concert performance at the BBC Proms, is surely becoming the definitive interpreter of his generation. He sings the role beautifully – quiet and introspective when needed (‘The Great Bear and Pleiades’) and with a clarion voice for the character’s more forceful moments. He benefits from a strong and credible physical presence too. From the interpretive perspective it is hard to recall a Grimes so obviously traumatised by the experience of losing his first apprentice and so ill-equipped to deal with the emotional fallout. His depiction of Grimes’s desperate need for emotional support and his frustrated inability to allow those who do care to provide it is vocally and physically expressed. Every utterance was clear and weighted as part of a complex and devastating portrayal.”     …