Italian Moments

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Tchaikovsky  Romeo and Juliet Overture, 21′
  • Rachmaninov  Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, 24′
  • Puccini  Intermezzi from Madam Butterfly and Manon Lescaut, 13′
  • Respighi  Feste Romane, 24′

Pavel Kolesnikov’s encore – Chopin  Waltz in A Minor

North meets south, and whether it’s Tchaikovsky’s star-crossed lovers embracing under the Italian night sky or Respighi’s roof-raising vision of Roman excess, this is a concert full of big emotions and spectacular colours. Birmingham-born conductor Alpesh Chauhan has become a star in Italy: he knows not to hold back. And nor will the superb young Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov, in Rachmaninov’s hugely popular Rhapsody.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Midland Music Reviews:

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[…]     “The programme had its roots entirely in Chauhan’s adopted country, beginning with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet which the conductor wove a haunting string web of regret before launching into a well-paced tumult — and commendably bringing his left hand into play only for telling moments.

Pavel Kolesnikov was a perfect collaborator with the orchestra for Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, now effervescent, now thoughtful in his punctuation of these colourful textures. The piece emerged as the sinfonia concertante for orchestra and piano that it actually is.

Orchestra and conductor really came into their own in the Intermezzi from Puccini’s Madam Butterfly and Manon Lescaut, sumptuous in tone, strings phrasing like soloists, and everything delivered with an ardour which surely had the composer smiling down on us.”     […]


Review by Robert Gainer, Bachtrach:

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[…]    “But Chauhan and the CBSO were saving the best until last. Respighi’s Feste Romane is a symphonic poem of serious magnitude. I’m surprised the strings had room to bow, or the trombones space to slide, given how tightly the musicians were packed on the stage. The third in Resphigi’s Roman trilogy, Feste Romane comes in four movements, each depicting aspects of Ancient Rome. The first opened with a wonderfully coherent trumpet fanfare that celebrates the occasion of gladiatorial combat. There was no subtlety in Chauhan’s presentation, nor should there have been. Who ever heard of a subtle gladiator? This was blood and guts and glory in Nero’s Rome and the CBSO were on fire. Everything was coming together: the power of the deep brass; the tension of the tempestuous strings; the driving tumult of bass drum and timpani. Even as the tempo and volume subsided to reflect a more ponderous depth of feeling in strings and woodwind, the forward motion of the first movement was inescapable and inevitably returned to reiterate the opening fanfares.

The remaining three movements continued in a similar vein, indeed, if anything became increasingly frenetic, especially in the brass and percussion. Yet there were moments of respite when we were treated to more unusual orchestrations. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of percussive chimes and the mandolin passage in the third movement. The fourth movement was as tight and absorbing as anything I have experienced at Symphony Hall, a truly climactic finale.”     […]



Baiba Skride: Szymanowski

Thursday 4th February, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra



  • Mendelssohn  A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture, 11′
  • Szymanowski  Violin Concerto No.1, 23′
  • Shostakovich  Symphony No. 10 , 52′

Baiba Skride’s encore – Bach – Sarabande from Partita 2 in D Minor

The Soviet authorities called Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony an “optimistic tragedy”. But we can hear it as one of the mightiest symphonies of the 20th century: huge, dark, and driven by blazing emotion. It’s all a long way from the moonlit enchantment of Mendelssohn’s Shakespearean overture – or Szymanowski’s gorgeous, shimmering First Violin Concerto, played tonight by this season’s artist in residence, the wonderful Baiba Skride.

CBSO+ 6.15pm Conservatoire Showcase Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Seal, performs Respighi’s majestic Pines of Rome and Mattei, a World Premiere by Conservatoire Composer Ryan Probert.



Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

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…    ” He went on to sculpt Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony in big, sweeping gestures and a positively lurid palette of orchestral colours. True, it was alive with detail: Julian Roberts’s plangent bassoon solos, Rainer Gibbons’s oboe twisting palely in the gloom at the start of the finale, and pizzicato that ranged from fat and pungent to bitterly wry. But this was broad-brush Shostakovich, thrillingly physical and reeking of vodka and boot-leather. The ending drew cheers.      […]

[…]     Earlier, the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra gave a pre-concert performance under Michael Seal. Mattei , by Conservatoire composer Ryan Probert, created huge Technicolor sonorities (extra brass plus organ) from the slightest of musical ideas. Respighi’s Pines of Rome put the same forces to suitably roof-raising use; but it was the eloquence and sense of atmosphere in the quiet music (beautifully poised trumpet and clarinet solos, supported by ravishing string phrasing) that showed just what heights these students can attain under Seal’s direction. “





The Year 1913: Falstaff

Wednesday 20 February 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Litton  conductor

Freddy Kempf  piano

Elgar: Falstaff 35′ Listen on Spotify

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2 31′

Respighi: The Pines of Rome 26′ Listen on Spotify

When England’s greatest composer met England’s greatest writer, the results were bound to be special. Elgar’s Falstaff might just be his masterpiece; it’s a big-hearted, deeply personal tribute to Shakespeare’s comic hero, written in 1913 and filled with glorious tunes – as well as ominous shadows. Popular guest conductor Andrew Litton has matched it with two spectacular musical panoramas: Respighi’s sumptuous postcard from Rome, and the cold steel of Prokofiev’s electrifying Second Piano Concerto, also exactly 100 years old. Played tonight by Freddy Kempf, one of today’s true stars of the keyboard, it’s guaranteed to thrill.


Review by John Quinn, SeenAndHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “It certainly requires a pianist of exceptional virtuosity as well as a conductor who is a very adroit accompanist: happily this performance had both. In the first movement the performers brought out well the piquancy of the march-like material but the high point was Kempf’s rendition of the formidable extended cadenza. This is a remarkable passage, demanding consummate technique and reserves of physical strength.  Kempf has both. He was commanding in this solo and although much of the music is forward looking and dissonant it also shows, I think, an awareness of the heritage of Russian Romantic piano music. The brief, fast and furious Scherzo was dispatched through dazzling fingerwork on Kempf’s part and no little dexterity from the CBSO under Litton’s alert and lively direction. Calum MacDonald describes the third movement Intermezzo as “dissonant and angular”. It was powerfully projected in this performance though there are also passages that call for finesse both from the orchestra and the soloist and these came off equally well. There’s a good deal of percussive, powerful music in the finale and this was excitingly delivered. Another demanding cadenza gave Kempf a further opportunity to show his mettle before the pyrotechnical end of the work. I’d not experienced this piece in the concert hall before but tonight’s performers made a powerful case for it and Kempf’s virtuosity was rightly acclaimed by the Birmingham audience.     […]

[…] Once again the CBSO was on cracking form in this concert and it was evident from their response to him that they like working with Andrew Litton. I thought this programme was a mouth-watering, fascinating feast of extravagantly scored orchestral music when I first saw it advertised and it lived up to my expectations. There were a surprising number of empty seats in Symphony Hall; those who stayed away were the losers.”




Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…    “Andrew Litton proved yet again that it’s not only British  conductors who hold the secret to Elgar. His reading of Falstaff, a masterpiece valedictory in  tone, was sensitive to mood, allowing so much character to come from the players  themselves (Laurence Jackson’s dreamy violin, Eduardo Vassallo’s avuncular  cello, Gretha Tuls’ sorrowing bassoon, Cliff Pick’s so-sensitive timpanism – and  such beefy, generous sounds from all the rest) as he unfolded this sad old man’s  story with such clarity of texture and richness of colour. There were surtitles  recounting the episodes; they were almost redundant, given the communicative  grip of Litton’s reading.

Also written at the death-throes of self-bloating  romanticisim, but expressing itself in a totally different, twilight-denying way  is Respighi’s symphonic poem The Pines of  Rome, the CBSO winds fizzing in its boisterous opening  before more portentous matters take over, with a march-past of Roman legionary  forces.”     …