Mahler’s Tenth

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 31st March, 2016 – 7:30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Webern Six Pieces Op. 6 (chamber version)
    Brahms Four Songs for Women’s Voices,
    Op. 17
    Mahler Symphony No. 10
    (completed by Deryck Cooke)

Mahler never quite finished his Tenth Symphony, but when musicologist Deryck Cooke finally pieced together the sketches, he uncovered a lost masterpiece – in which cries of love and cries of pain finally resolve in music of shattering honesty and piercing beauty. Nicholas Collon uncovers its secrets tonight, and sets it alongside miniatures from Brahms and Webern – each one a tiny, concentrated world of poetry and emotion.

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Available on iPlayer BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert here until 30th April 2016

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And so to the Mahler, a work which perhaps would never have been written had the dying composer not realised his wife was having an affair with the next creative artist in her collection. It is maudlin, self-repeating from previous works, but also has a visionary quality which begs the listener’s forgiveness.

Collon allowed the music to make all its own points, as Mahler would have intended. He drew a wondrously rich string tone, summoned the brass to awesomely terrifying outbursts, and presided over a myriad of vital instrumental solos.

Chief among these must come the many contributions of concertmaster Zoe Beyers, and, too, the lengthy flute solo in the finale from Marie-Christine Zupancic. We have heard all such things earlier in Mahler’s authentic symphonic output, but this does not detract from how valid they sounded within this context.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “There was a real authority about the CBSO’s playing under Collon, the sense of an orchestra continuing to explore a work it knows inside out. Beyond the English Midlands, Cooke’s score may not have quite secured the place in the canon it deserves. No other completion of the 10th I’ve heard seems anything like as convincing, so true to the world of late Mahler as what Cooke, with the assistance of Berthold Goldschmidt and Colin and David Matthews, produced. This performance was a reminder of how important a musical document it is.

Occasionally, the account was perhaps a little glib. Both scherzos have more menace in them than Collon suggested, and parts of the huge first movement seemed doggedly persistent rather than genuinely aspirational. But from its crepuscular opening onwards he caught the mood of the finale perfectly, right through to the radiance of the coda, when the strings return to the untroubled world of the Fifth Symphony’s adagietto.”

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “In the first scherzo Mahler constantly changes the time signature, giving the music a very unstable feel. Here the playing of the CBSO was incisive and displayed no little brilliance.  Collon handled the Ländler-like trio very well, using rubato very skilfully so that the music sounded very idiomatic. When the scherzo material reappeared he drove the movement to an exciting conclusion.

The short third movement, entitled ‘Purgatorio’ is a strange piece of writing. As I listened to the performance it seemed to me that the music offers echoes of the Seventh Symphony. Collon showed a fine feeling for Mahlerian style and he brought out the colours in the orchestration very vividly.

He took the second scherzo attacca. (In effect, since the finale also follows without a break, this meant that we heard the three movements that constitute Part II of the symphony as an unbroken span.) In some ways this fourth movement sounds to me the most Mahlerian of all – I’m thinking especially of the middle three symphonies and the Ninth. Here passages that require – and were given – real bite alternate with warm, sentimental music. The mood and colours of the music seems to be constantly changing – the former the responsibility of Mahler, the latter the product of Mahler’s invention as realised by Cooke’s orchestration. The CBSO played the movement with great virtuosity. The hushed coda, dominated by the percussion, was spookily effective.

If the end of the fourth movement was spooky then the beginning of the long finale was positively eerie; the dull bass drum thuds and doleful tuba distilled an atmosphere as baleful as even the start of the finale of the Sixth. And then, out of the darkness emerged the wonderfully tender flute melody, cushioned by soft violas and cellos. As voiced by the CBSO’s principal, Marie-Christine Zupancic, the melody was fragile yet soothing. Had Mahler’s sketches been left to gather dust we should have been deprived of this, arguably his most heart-stopping melody; what a loss that would have been. The consoling melody was then taken up and developed most beautifully by the violins. The paragraphs that followed were shaped with intensity and understanding by Collon and the CBSO responded to his leadership with wonderfully glowing playing.  Later, in the faster episodes there was urgency and bite from the orchestra but it’s for the heart-easing lyrical passages that I will long remember this performance.  The last few minutes of the movement seem suffused by acceptance and, perhaps, by a recollection of temps perdu. Collon conducted these closing pages with fine yet controlled intensity and was rewarded with luminous playing, especially from the strings and golden-toned horns. One last anguished outcry and then the symphony ends in tranquillity.

As I said earlier, many distinguished Mahler conductors have resisted performing this performing version by Deryck Cooke – or, indeed, the various versions by other hands. With all due deference, I have to say I think they are wrong. Cooke never made any pretence that what he had done was to “complete” Mahler’s score. Using highly informed conjecture and great musicianship he and his colleagues gave us a way – not the way – to hear the music that Mahler had composed. If we ignore the Tenth we surely have an incomplete picture of Mahler in his last years. If we embrace it, however, we expand and enrich our understanding of one of the twentieth century’s most important and influential symphonists. This evening’s very fine performance demonstrated very clearly how rewarding an experience Mahler’s Tenth can be.

I left Symphony Hall full of admiration for the performance by Nicholas Collon and the CBSO. But above all I left full of gratitude to Deryck Cooke and his three collaborators. Through their dedicated work our Mahler horizon was expanded significantly.”

 

 

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The Firebird

Thursday 3rd March, 2016, 2.15pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • 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
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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.
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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.”     …

Dvořák’s Sixth

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 14th October, 2.15pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Mozart Idomeneo – Ballet Music, 10′
  • Nielsen  Violin Concerto, 35′
  • Dvořák  Symphony No. 6, 41′
Pekka Kuusisto’s encore – Aulis Sallinen – Cadenza
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Love Dvořák’s symphony from the New World? Now discover his symphony from the old one! Dvořák’s Sixth is musical sunshine: from pastoral opening to jubilant finish, it’s 45 joyous minutes of folkdances, lullabies and autumn sunsets – perfect for the youthful energy of conductor Nicholas Collon, just as Nielsen’s tuneful Violin Concerto could have been written for our soloist Pekka Kuusisto. Mozart’s Idomeneo ballet launches the evening in majestic style.
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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:
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“Good to hear Dvorak’s sixth symphony, the equal of his last three in all but fame, especially when performed with such a winning mixture of tender lyricism, rhythmic vigour and bravado. With the CBSO brass and Elspeth Dutch’s outstanding horn section in full cry the finale powered away like a ship in full steam down the Vltava.The conductor Nicholas Collon’s pacing of the opening allegro was spot on and while the dynamic scherzo, with its cross-cutting rhythms, was exuberant Collon allowed the wind section to give full play to the trio’s Bohemian melodies.

They impressed again at the opening of the adagio which sounded like one of Mozart’s magical wind serenades.”     …

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War and Revolution

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Wednesday 19th November 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Nicholas Collon  conductor
François Leleux  oboe

Britten: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes 16′
Listen on Spotify

Copland: Appalachian Spring – Suite 24′
Listen on Spotify

Strauss: Oboe Concerto 26′
Listen on Spotify

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9 27′

François Leleux’s encore (with the CBSO) – Gluck: Dance of the Blessed Spirits

1945: year zero. In the USSR, Shostakovich blew a raspberry at Uncle Joe Stalin. In America, Copland conjured a magical picture of lost innocence. In Germany, Richard Strauss was also retreating from the horrors of wartime into an idealised classical past. And in Wolverhampton, Benjamin Britten rehearsed an opera that would change the face of British music. A musical portrait of an extraordinary time – conducted by one of the most dynamic young conductors of our own day.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
MacMillan’s St Luke Passion, Thursday 4th December, 2014
Shostakovich Uncovered, Wednesday 11th February, 2015
War and Revolution, Sunday 15th February, 2015

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“It’s asking for trouble when an agent puts out a biography describing its subject as “recognised throughout the world as the best oboist of his generation”; you can sense the hubris gleefully waiting to pounce.

But there were certainly wonders in Francois Leleux’ account with the CBSO of the autumnal, delicious Oboe Concerto by Richard Strauss. His phrasing was mellifluous, and as open-air as the composer’s beloved Bavarian Alps; interchanges with orchestral soloists were sparkling and well dovetailed (special plaudits to violist Chris Yates); flourishes danced as though from panpipes, and he painted piquant shades of colour.

And for once I welcomed the encore, Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orpheus and Euridice, otherworldly and evocative.”      …

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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…     “After the interval, François Leleux played Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto. Still the seminal entity in an all too limited medium, it is also the pick from the several concertante works that this composer wrote during his ‘Indian Summer’. Chief among its attractions is the subtlety with which each of the three movements segues into the next, ensuring a continuous thematic transformation as reaches the deftest culmination in the coda. Leleux offered an encore, a limpid rendering of Gluck’s ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’.

Whereas Strauss recollects, Shostakovich in his Ninth Symphony provokes – though whether that was the intention in what is outwardly his most understated such piece remains unclear. Steering a vital course through the tensile opening Allegro, Collon brought out the wistful anxiety of the ensuing Moderato. A breezy Presto led, via the sombre pathos of a recitative-like Largo (with soulful bassoon playing from Johan Lammerse), to a final Allegretto whose laconic humour took on a much more aggressive demeanour in the breathless closing pages.

An alert and perceptive performance, then, of a work which also brought out the best from the CBSO. Nicholas Collon seems to have established a firm rapport with this orchestra, making one look forward to further appearances in comparably well-planned programmes.”

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Review by Christopher Thomas, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “By 1945 Benjamin Britten had reached a point in his career whereby he was redefining British opera, with Nicholas Collon and the CBSO heightening the still glorious originality of the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes in a reading that displayed a deft sense of light and shade in the fragile light of the strings in the opening bars as a grey dawn awakes over the East Anglian scenery. The gentle movement of the water was beautifully captured by the orchestra, as was the subsequent atmosphere of Sunday Morning, its pealing bells set against a backdrop of glistening waves and being portrayed by the orchestra with a bustling sense of activity as the local villagers arrive at church. The final wind ravaged Storm was dispatched with a crushing and masterly paced power although it was the evocative image of moonlight dancing on the waves in the third movement, punctuated by telling interjections from flute that made the deepest impression.

If the troubled psychological backdrop to Peter Grimes found Collon and the orchestra at their most evocative, Copland’s Appalachian Spring was imbued with a sheer joy and wonder that made a very direct impression on the audience in Symphony Hall. From the wide open spaces of the plains to the driving dance rhythms as the happy couple at the heart of Copland’s most overtly popular ballet celebrate their wedding day (the broad grin on Nicholas Collon’s face spoke as clearly as the playing) the joy was beautifully counterbalanced by the aching tenderness of the third section (Moderato) and the prayer like peace and serenity of the closing passages. When played with the freshness that it was here, the infectious accessibility and subtleties of Copland’s score remain vivid seventy years on from its composers attempts to re-capture the attention of an American audience that had become increasingly divorced from artistic culture.”     …

Dvořák’s New World Symphony

Tuesday 2 October 2012 at 2.15pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Nicholas Collon conductor
Francesco Piemontesi piano

Berlioz: Beatrice and Benedict – Overture 8′
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20, K.466 30′
Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 (From the New World) 40′ Listen on Spotify

Francesco Piemontesi’s Encore – slow movement of Schubert’s Sonata in A major D664

As the inspiration behind London’s award-winning Aurora Orchestra, the young British conductor Nicholas Collon has thrown aside convention and let fresh air in on the capital’s music scene. Making his CBSO debut today, he’s the ideal partner for the inspirational Italian pianist Francesco Piemontesi in Mozart’s powerful 20th Piano Concerto – and just the man to bring new life to Dvorák’s ever-popular New World Symphony. Berlioz’s playful Overture is the perfect appetiser, full of love and laughter.

www.cbso.co.uk