Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Friday 6th January, 2017, 7:30pm

Artists

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

John Wilsonconductor

Tamara Stefanovichpiano

Programme

Lauren Marshall – Suspended Between Earth and Air (conducted by Joshua Mock)

Brett DeanKomarov’s Fall

SzymanowskiSymphony No 4 (Sinfonia Concertante)

RachmaninovSymphony No 2

It’s cold outside. But step inside the concert hall and the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers is fired up and ready to put on a show of orchestral brilliance.

The journey begins in the chilly isolation of outer space, lands in the middle of a lively Polish party and ends in the radiant warmth of a showstopping Russian symphony. Your guide for the evening is John Wilson, charismatic conductor and conjurer of musical magic.

Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall is music that sharpens the senses. Its eerie opening requires precise and fearless playing as sparse, icy strings and woodwind glisten in the silence of space. As the tragic drama unfolds, jagged percussion and urgent brass take over the story of the Russian cosmonaut who became a hapless victim of the ruthless 1960’s space race.

For a fun-filled feast of toe-tapping rhythms, joyful dances and cheerful marches look no further than Szymanowski’s Symphonie Concertante. It is a cross between a symphony and a piano concerto and was one of the composer’s favourite pieces. With playful banter between the orchestra and piano, it is energetic and spirited, just like a stage-full of teenage musicians.

The finale of the evening is Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2, the ultimate Russian Romantic symphony. With big, bold melodies and lush, glowing harmonies, this music will smoulder and blaze in a performance of irresistible sparkle and flamboyance.

Totally teenage orchestral brilliance. Come and hear it.

BBC Radio 3 Live Broadcast –

Available on BBC Radio iPlayer here until 5th February 2017

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “This is an orchestra of marvellous flair and panache, profoundly intelligent, miraculously accurate, immensely responsive to scores of different hues, romantic and modern, producing a thrilling overall sound that is sheer joy to listen to. “Aurally volcanic” was how The Observer dubbed these breathtakingly talented young players. And indeed there were plenty of full-blooded explosions throughout this concert.

The chief surprise was an unexpected opener, Suspended between earth and air, by Lauren Marshall. She studied at the Purcell School and is currently NYO’s Principal Composer. This work turned out to be a miracle of inspiration. To behold at the outset eight trombones and a mass of horns arrayed in front of us, with a vast, possibly quadruple, spread of woodwind and strings, was in itself pretty astonishing, even if the NYO has more than 160 players to call upon.

But the impression made by Marshall’s largescale yet compact, beautifully argued piece and its use of a bigger-than-Wagner sized orchestra was astonishing: so atmospheric, indeed, that it actually managed to upstage Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall, a piece with which it had affinities both in subject matter (the might of the universe) and deployment of thickly massed orchestral sections. The start alone made a wondrous impact: low tympani, growling soft trombone, yielding to a striking early string build-up and some vivid chattering — almost a conversation — from the percussion. Some of the birdlike chirruping in the strings sounded uncannily like Szymanowski (the opening of his Violin Concerto No.2), which was especially appropriate given what was to come.     […]

[…]    There followed another piece of inspired programming by the NYO: one of the very rare live performances one can hear of Szymanowski’s Sinfonia Concertante (Symphony No.4). It is the work the Polish composer sketched late in life in an attempt to keep alive his performing on the platform when tuberculosis was beginning to play havoc with his health. Though the composer attempted to keep the solo part restrained, it is in fact a pretty full-blooded concerto, with a great deal of virtuosity which calls for an able soloist. Tamara Stefanovich brought colour and life and vivacity to the solo role, ably supported by the orchestra as a whole.

It is too unwieldy a task to elaborate on every detail of this work, which responded so well to the Symphony Hall acoustic. The start was mysterious and quizzical as it should be, with pizzicato cellos and basses, later a hinterland of flutes and clarinets, and the piano part characterised by the octaves and other parallellings that form part of its identity. The violins’ delayed entry was wonderfully robust, and they led in the falling-third patterns which become so essential to the argument. After a faultless surge from horns and trombones — I did not hear a single hint of a brass fluff all evening, which is a rare treat — the timpanist ushers in the cadenza, a great medley of material from the movement’s themes. Finely performed as that was, the orchestra’s scampering to a sudden, rather Ravel-like close, was yet more brilliant.     […]

[…]     The final movement gained equal impact thanks to the enduring quality of the NYO’s playing. The swellings and subsidings, all meticulously measured out, continued from earlier movements, the sensitive violas again supplied a plangent link, and the horn flutters — all eight of them beautifully synchronised — sounded like something out of Wagner. The movement, like the others, contains some tricky junctures calling for total attention and excellent conducting, which Wilson, nursing each section with intimacy and encouragement, and an unerring twinkle in his eye, dutifully supplied. In fact it was the links throughout the Rachmaninov, as in the Szymanowski, which showed off to great satisfaction the intelligence and attentiveness of these player en masse. The explosion of timpani and bass drum, and cymbals too, at the close, perfectly engineered, demonstrated with a final burst the magnificent effort put in by all their fellow players. Only occasionally one sensed the massed violin sound could be a little edgy, a mite domineering. But all in all, this was a concert to die for.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Wilson energised and balanced everything very precisely, but even in Symphony Hall, which can probably clarify such massive textures better than anywhere else in Britain, there were moments in both works that suffered from problems of scale. Tamara Stefanovich’s fabulously secure solo playing tended to disappear altogether at the climaxes of the Szymanowski, while, though played with enormous verve and skill, the outer movements of the Rachmaninov seemed glutinous and flabby. Even the beautifully sculpted clarinet solo in the slow movement sounded oddly out of place in such a larger-than-life performance.

The published programme began with Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall – his short, touching memorial to the first astronaut to die in space – but before it one of the orchestra’s cellists, Joshua Mock, had conducted a beautifully paced account of Suspended Between Earth and Air, by NYOGB’s principal composer scholar, 16-year-old Lauren Marshall, which unfolds a sequence of striking musical images – fluttering woodwind, dense packed clusters and a final, enigmatic chorale – in a wonderfully assured way.”

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Review by Vincent Coster, Blog:

Click here for full review

…     “Tonight they played another concert that is a testimony to the fine work of this orchestra and proudly supports the fact that their ethos is a noble and worthy one. It was evident from the very beginning when we were treated to a surprise piece not originally listed. One that was written by the orchestra’s principal composer Lauren Marshall called Suspended Between Earth and Air. The piece itself was one of those typical modern compositions, which oscillate sharply, jagged and sharp in their contortions, and this too was wonderfully constructed in that mode. It was a treat and fitted in with the direction of the concert, setting us up perfectly for the next piece which was Dean’s piece Komarov’s Fall. So well blended where these two pieces that one thought they had stumbled into the film score of a futuristic nightmare set deep in the cold wastes of space. I for one hope we hear more of this young composer in the future, and that this piece gets performed more often.

Hardly had one time to breathe or recover from the modernistic style which begun this concert when the Orchestra took us backwards to an earlier part of the modern period with Karol Szymanowski’s Symphony No 4 (Sinfonia Concertante), this time joined on stage by Tamara Stefanovich. Together they treated the audience to such a wonderful rendition of a difficult and strikingly beautiful symphony.”     …

 

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Moscow State Symphony Orchestra

Perform Shostakovich’s Symphony No 5

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Saturday 14th May, 2016, 7:30pm

Moscow State Symphony Orchestra

Pavel Kogan – conductor

John Lill – piano

Stephen Johnson Behemoth Dances 7’
Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini 22’
Shostakovich Symphony No 5 44’

MSSO encores:

Rachmaninov – Vocalise

Vincent Youmans (orch. Shostakovich) – Tea for Two – Tahiti Trot

Mariano Mores – El Firulete

Rachmaninov’sPaganini Rhapsody is more than just that rapturous 18th variation; and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is more than just one of the great symphonic blockbusters. And Pavel Kogan, John Lill and the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra will show you why. Nothing compares to Russian music played by Russian performers, and for Kogan and his orchestra, it’s in the blood.

6.15pm Pre-concert conversation with Stephen Johnson and Jonathan James.
This conversation will be signed by a British Sign Language interpreter

http://www.THSH.co.uk

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“Stephen Johnson is a much respected presenter and writer about music. As we discovered in Saturday’s concert from the remarkable Moscow State Symphony Orchestra he is also an accomplished composer.

Possibly the Russians took an interest in his Behemoth Dances because of Johnson’s passionate interest in the culture of their country. The scenario of this vibrant piece is based on a satirical Russian novel, but we don’t actually need to know that, as this well-imagined score speaks for itself.

Its gripping, urgent opening has something of William Walton’s brio about it, with bold, firmly-etched rhythms riding under confident orchestral sonorities. Darker interludes intervene, and there is particularly atmospheric use of the vibraphone.

Behemoth Dances’ bristling energy was generously conveyed by the MSSO under Pavel Kogan’s empowering baton, with the Hereford-based composer present to acknowledge the immense, well-deserved applause.”     …

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Review by Richard Ely, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “A Russian orchestra will have a particular emotional investment to make in this symphony. Kogan’s forceful intent was demonstrated from the beginning, with strings plunging into the first movement’s exposition with the force of someone being thrown bodily into a vat of cold water. The developmental section was judged perfectly, so that when the martial theme emerged, propelled by the side-drum, it had exactly the jolting effect the composer intended; the movement’s conclusion provided another magical moment, where time became stationary, as concertmaster Alexandra Zhavoronkova’s violin and Elena Kazna’s celesta trailed off into silence.

The same thrust and concern for dynamics was evident in the scherzo, which had never sounded more like a death waltz, for all its sprightliness. But even in a work as veiled as this, there has to be a heart-on-the-sleeve moment and the Largo is the closest Shostakovich comes to unburdening his soul. Kogan and his orchestra played it for all its worth, finding intense feeling in the movement’s expressivo climax that held the audience so rapt that the beginning of the Allegro final movement had the effect of a slap across the face. The note of sour triumphalism on which the symphony ends was precisely caught in a performance of astonishing alacrity: the whole piece clocked in at just forty minutes!

The reception fairly took the roof off and we were treated to a generous three encores: Rachmaninov’s Vocalise was sensuously melancholic, Shostakovich’s Tea for Two gave us some necessary light relief (you need to see this piece performed to understand just how funny it is!) and the tango El Firulate by the recently deceased Argentinian composer Mariano Mores. A triumphant evening. “

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Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

Behemoth Dances. Who dances? You know, Behemoth, the huge demonic black cat who cakewalks through Stalin’s Moscow in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita spreading mayhem and magic; the spirit – as quoted by Bulgakov, and taken by Stephen Johnson as a sort of motto for his new orchestral work – “that always wills evil, but always does good”. A sardonic fanfare announces his appearance, before the orchestra whizzes away on a bustling, bristling spree. Woodwinds squeal and skirl, the surface glitters, and a piano throws in a few deadpan comments.

But this isn’t just a deliciously orchestrated successor to one of Walton’s comedy overtures. There’s something going on beneath the surface here: solemn chants, dark undercurrents, and a spreading, quietly insistent sense that we’re actually hearing something profoundly sad. And with Pavel Kogan conducting the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra – and if you didn’t know the composer lives in Herefordshire – you could be convinced that Behemoth Dances is showing you something remarkably like the Russian soul.

Stephen Johnson

And yes, this is the same Stephen Johnson (pictured) we know from Radio Three’s sorely missed Discovering Music – the authority on Bruckner, Shostakovich and Sibelius, the award-winning documentary-maker, and the writer of music criticism so lucid, so readable and so generous that it makes the rest of us feel like giving up. I can’t deny that part of the pleasure of this almost-premiere (it was first heard in Moscow last month) was seeing a fellow gamekeeper make such a terrific job of turning poacher. Johnson has been reticent about his composing, though he trained under Alexander Goehr. Hopefully no longer: Behemoth Dances shows that he has a voice, he has technique, and he can connect with an audience. The Birmingham audience cheered.”     …

 

 

 

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra

Performs Mahler Symphony No. 5

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 Concert Package, SoundBite, Piano Highlights and Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16

Saturday 12th March, 2016

Symphony Hall

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko conductor
Simon Trpčeski piano

6:15pm Pre-concert conversation with Vasily Petrenko.
This conversation will be signed by a British Sign Language interpreter

Grieg Lyric Suite Op 54 17’
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2 33’
Mahler Symphony No 5 72’

Simon Trpceski’s encore  with cellist Louisa Tuck – Rachmaninov – Vocalise

Oslo Philharmonic’s encore – Schubert – Moment Musical no. 3 in F Minor (for strings)

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Long acclaimed as Scandinavia’s finest orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra has found a fresh energy under its dynamic new music director Vasily Petrenko. In Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, Petrenko and the Oslo Phil will make a compelling pairing; in Rachmaninov, meanwhile, Petrenko and pianist Simon Trpc˘ eski have already been hailed by critics as a ‘dream team’!

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…    The concerto was Rachmaninov Two, the soloist the much-loved Simon Trpceski (…)playing with a confident rubato and empathy with his collaborators. This was a joint triumph for pianist and orchestra (full-throated strings, eloquent woodwind), Trpceski bringing warmth as well as glitter to rippling passage-work, and always a freshly-minted response to this well-worn work.

Applause from a packed auditorium came in huge waves, rewarded with a lovely encore, Trpceski modestly accompanying cello principal Louisa Tuck in Rachmaninov’s poignant little Vocalise.

Petrenko drew a tight, compact sound from the OPO for Mahler’s mighty Fifth Symphony. Strings dug deep, and the brass soloists (horn, trumpet, trombone), so important throughout this work laden with symbolic imagery, were a constantly commanding presence.”     …

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Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 3

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 Concert Package,

SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16

and Competitions highlights

Tuesday 1st March, 2016

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy conductor
Vikingur Ólafsson piano

Rachmaninov The Rock 18’
Liszt Piano Concerto No 2 21’
Rachmaninov Symphony No 3 39’

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Víkingur Ólafsson’s encore – Rameau – Le Rappel des Oiseaux

A song of exile; bittersweet, jazzy and heartbreakingly lyrical. Vladimir Ashkenazy adores it, and few living conductors match his understanding and empathy for this music.If you don’t already know Rachmaninov’s Third,this performance with the Philharmonia might just make you fall in love.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “But there was nothing comical about their partnership in Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto, Ashkenazy collaborating with experienced insight, Olafsson ruminative and fiercely attacking by turns (and his thumbs must be among the most elastic in the business), taking self-possessed ownership of a work which remains bitty, for all its thematic unity.

At the top of its musicianly form, the Philharmonia responded thrillingly to the score’s proto-Wagnerian orchestral writing, with full marks to the cello soloist.

Olafsson gave us a delightful encore in the shape of a miniature by Jean-Philippe Rameau. When’s the last time we heard anything of that baroque master in Symphony Hall?

Both pianist and conductor had the courtesy to turn and acknowledge the audience in the choir-stalls; not all performers do that. And Ashkenazy, brimming with enthusiasm, gave virtual embraces to the entire audience and his orchestra after the two Rachmaninov works which framed this memorable evening.

The Rock, a Tchaikovskyian rarity (indeed, much admired by that composer) was warmly, engagingly delivered, with frolicsome flute and clarinet solos, and a genuine sense of ongoing narrative.”     …

CBSO Youth Orchestra

Rachmaninov’s Second

Sunday 21st February, 7.00pm

CBSO Youth Orchestra

Programme

  • Prokofiev  Scythian Suite , 20′
  • Rachmaninov  Symphony No. 2, 55′

Conductor Jac van Steen has a special rapport with the CBSO Youth Orchestra – and if you’ve heard them play Rachmaninov before, you’ll know to expect absolute commitment, glorious playing and pure, unbuttoned emotion when our fabulous young players tackle the ultimate Russian romantic symphony. Though after van Steen has unleashed them on the pagan frenzy of Prokofiev’s electrifying Scythian Suite, pulses should already be racing!

Scheherazade

Thursday 14th January, 2.15pm

Programme

  • Ravel  Mother Goose Suite, 16′
  • Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 4, 24′
  • Rimsky-Korsakov  Scheherazade, 45′

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess, a cruel king… and a Russian composer. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade is like opening a wonderful book of musical stories: there’s adventure, magic and – of course – love, all told in music of glittering splendour and gorgeous colour. Guest conductor Andrew Gourlay retells the tale today, along with Ravel’s own little book of musical fairytales, and Rachmaninov’s jazziest concerto. So, if you’re sitting comfortably…

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

(for Saturday 16th performance of same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “He and the orchestra were joined by Ukrainian Alexander Romanovsky for Rachmaninov’s elusive Fourth Piano Concerto, a work where everything is stripped to the bone. It’s a piece whose atmospheric gestures would soon be taken up by film-music composers (gorgeously dark lyricism from the CBSO strings), but here Romanovsky concentrated on the music’s remarkable cogency, bringing a strong rhythmic impulse and a mercurial pianism redolent of Rachmaninov himself. His Chopin Nocturne encore was a perfect choice, rich-toned and warmly pedalled.

We ended with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, a composition short in musical content but brilliant in terms of colour and opportunities for display, showing off the skills of so many CBSO soloists under Gourlay’s flexible, empowering direction.

And of course the princess of all of these was concertmaster Zoe Beyers, her narrations eloquent and subtly phrased, poignant in their underlying desperation (Scheherazade is spinning tales to prolong her own life, after all), and all the time neatly dovetailed into her orchestral duties.”     …

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Review by Hedy Mühleck, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “It was also a kiss (on the hand!) that stood at the end the performance of the second piece this afternoon – a superbly played Fourth Piano Concerto by Rachmaninov at the hands of Alexander Romanovsky. The CBSO’s sound immediately had more punch, was more immediate, and set the mood for the piano’s opening chords. Romanovsky spelled those out a bit too obviously, but soon played flowingly, coherently, effortlessly in the highly virtuoso passages, yet retaining a pithy sound. Romanovsky revelled in the jazzy opening of the middle movement as the orchestra revelled in its dreamy three-note-motif as if there was nothing musically more important to say. It was a thing of beauty, as was the third movement, played at breakneck speed, yet utterly focussed and with great accuracy.

What more could there possibly be said about Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade? This is music that paints an image with broad strokes in primary orchestral colours. It is a fascinating piece that makes the listener a first-hand witness to the Sultan’s experience listening to his Sultana’s intricate tales, gracefully spun by the violin. Zoe Beyer’s tone was engaging, tender, with small, quick vibrato, and captured the storyteller to a tee, creating an unobtrusive, calm and quiet presence. It entered into trusted dialogue with the flute while the orchestral waves around Sinbad’s ship rose and rolled covered by spray, and like the programmatic tales, it kept the listener captivated throughout.”     …

Vladimir Ashkenazy Conducts Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 Concert Package,
SoundBite and Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16

Tuesday 3rd November, 7:30pm

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy conductor
International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition winner Seong-Jin Cho piano

Sibelius Valse Triste 6’
Chopin Piano Concerto No 1
Rachmaninov Symphony No 2 60’

.Seong-Jin Cho’s encore – Chopin –

Ashkenazy and Rachmaninov – need we say more? Few conductors know how to make Rachmaninov’s melodies sing like Ashkenazy does, or have a more intimate understanding of what makes a top pianist tick.

Expect a near-definitive performance of Rachmaninov’s most romantic symphony, and the finest possible introduction to the winner of this year’s International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition.

About the winner:

Born on 28 May 1994, in Seoul, Seong-Jin Cho is a student of Michel Beroff at the Paris Conservatoire. He has won the International Fryderyk Chopin Competition for Young Pianists (2008) and a piano competition in Hamamatsu, Japan (2009), as well as Third Prize in the Pyotr Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia (2011) and the Arthur Rubinstein in Tel Aviv (2014). He has performed in concert with the Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra (cond. Valery Gergiev), the French Radio, Czech, Seoul (all with Myung-Whun Chung), Munich (cond. Lorin Maazel) and Ural (cond. Dmitry Liss) philharmonic orchestras, Berlin Radio Orchestra (cond. Marek Janowski), Russian National Orchestra (cond. Mikhail Pletnev) and Basel Symphony Orchestra (cond. Pletnev). He has toured Japan, Germany, France, Russia, Poland, Israel, China and the US. He has appeared at the Tokyo Opera, in Osaka, at the Moscow Conservatory and at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, including with recitals. He has participated in numerous European festivals, including in St Petersburg, Moscow, Duszniki-Zdrój and Cracow, as well as festivals in New York and Castleton. As a chamber musician, he has been invited to work with the outstanding violinist Kyung Wha Chung. He is the winner of the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition (2015).

We’ll find out which Chopin piano concerto will be performed after the competition finals in October 2015.

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Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

Click here for full review:

…    “The Philharmonia was on top form having already performed Jean Sibelius’ Valse Triste to open the programme. Ashkenazy, wearing his trademark white polo-neck sweater, coaxed a barely audible, yet tremendously solid, pianissimo from the strings at the beginning, then danced with the dynamics in a serene sway. Translated as ‘Sad Waltz’, this is a work that is bitter-sweet and melancholic in its portrayal of the inevitability of mortal fate than simply sad. Ashkenazy conveyed this distinction brilliantly through his deft musical shaping, and the sound quality of the string and woodwind sections of the Philharmonia was both sensuous and faultless.

They continued in the same manner in opening and accompanying Cho in the Chopin. The Allegro maestoso was exact, never forced or pompous. Cho has an enviable ability to make every note sound distinct and clear, shaping and balancing each phrase perfectly. After only about a minute of his performance I stopped analysing, closed my eyes and lost myself completely in the sheer musicality of the moment. Things only got better in the Romanze: Larghetto, with lyrical reflections seemingly glistening from the black gloss of the concert grand as Cho superbly demonstrated his understanding of Chopin’s stated intent: “calm and melancholy, giving the impression of a thousand happy memories. It’s a kind of moonlight reverie on a beautiful spring evening.” Cho’s more assertive performance of the Rondo: Vivace brought fresh rigour and colour to the conclusion of the concerto, demonstrating the breadth of his interpretative abilities.     […]

[…]     Ashkenazy made me feel like I was hearing an old friend in the symphony, but learning all sorts about that friend I never knew before, and his direction of tempi and dynamics was inspirational. He returns to Birmingham Symphony Hall with the Philharmonia to play Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony in March next year, and based on this performance, it should be well worth booking in advance.”