Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass

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Thursday 5th March 2015 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor
Luba Orgonášová  soprano
Sarah Connolly  mezzo-soprano
John Daszak  tenor
Clive Bayley  bass
Thomas Trotter  organ
CBSO Chorus  

Berlioz: Overture – Roman Carnival 9′
Berlioz: Les Troyens: Royal Hunt and Storm 10′
Berlioz: La Mort de Cléopâtre 21′ Watch on YouTube

Janácek: Glagolitic Mass 45′
Listen on Spotify

“The fragrance of the trees was like incense,” declared Leos Janácek. “I felt a cathedral grow from a great forest.” And with its jubilant trumpets, thundering organ and raw, unbuttoned lust for life, there’s nothing quite like the Glagolitic Mass. The CBSO Chorus loves to sing it, and Edward Gardner gets the pulse racing straight away, with three barnstorming showpieces by Hector Berlioz. Hold tight!

This concert has been made possible with support from an anonymous donor through the Keynote Programming Fund.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post

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…     “The Royal Hunt and Storm from Berlioz’ huge opera The Trojans made dramatic use of Symphony Hall’s spatial resources, brass scattered around the auditorium, Gardner drawing from the orchestra both pounding hooves and subtle sylvan delicacy.

But the real gem in this collection came with the early competition cantata La Mort de Cleopatre, where the gauche Berlioz painted vivid orchestral colours, pre-quoting the Carnaval Romain along the way, macabre both in timbre and harmony, and ending with a totally chilling death-rattle (Berlioz had once worked in a mortuary before fleeing into the arms of music).

Gardner conducted with flexible fluency and empathy with mezzo soloist Sarah Connolly (actually unacknowledged in the programme-book), singing with immense control and evenness throughout her range, and communicating the queen’s despair with self-possessed dignity.

Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass is as much a paean to nature’s life-force as it is to God.

It blazes with the earthiness of one late work (the Sinfonietta) and the pantheism of another (The Cunning Little Vixen).”    




Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “Sarah Connolly then joined the orchestra for the cantata La Mort de Cléopâtre. This was the piece that Berlioz submitted in 1829 as his third attempt to win the coveted Prix de Rome. The judges were renowned for their collective conservatism and so, since Berlioz didn’t trouble to dilute his adventurous style, the entry was unsuccessful. (The following year Berlioz submitted a somewhat more compliant composition and finally won the prize with the cantata La Mort de Sardanaple.) La Mort de Cléopâtre may not be top-drawer Berlioz but it’s well worth hearing and, my goodness, the music made a strong impression in this performance. The benefits of having a soloist and conductor who are highly experienced in the opera house were plain to hear. Sarah Connolly gave a gripping and completely convincing portrayal of the shamed, tragic queen, dishonoured and so doomed to die by her own hand. Her singing was intense and highly dramatic yet neither the sense of line nor her lustrous tone were ever sacrificed on the altar of drama. She was magnificent in the central Méditation (‘Grands Pharons, nobles Lagides’) and the way in which she almost whispered the queen’s last phrases was utterly compelling. Her performance was a riveting piece of musical acting. Edward Gardner matched her achievement, bringing out the highly original sonorities of Berlioz’s score and supporting his singer at all times. The very end, where bare-textured strings illustrate Cléopâtre’s death itself, was arresting. The astonishing originality of a passage such as that – and many others in the score – must have had the Prix de Rome judges calling for the smelling salts.     […]

[…]     As it was, Gardner was pretty persuasive in the familiar version of the score. Janáček’s pungent wind and brass writing registered extremely well – and there was a thrilling contribution from timpanist Matthew Perry – while the rhythms were crisply articulated throughout the performance. All the dramatic and exciting passages made an impact but the delicate side of this vibrant and colourful score was put across with equal success. All departments of the CBSO, with guest leader Charles Mutter deputising for an indisposed Laurence Jackson, responded as keenly to Gardner’s direction as they had done in the Berlioz items.

 A strong solo quartet had been assembled. It’s as well we’d had the chance to admire Sarah Connolly in Berlioz for Janáček confines the alto soloist to a fairly small contribution during what is in the Latin usage the Benedictus and a slightly fuller part in the Agnus Dei. Predictably, Miss Connolly was excellent in these pages. The bass has a bit more to do and Clive Bayley was firm of tone and projected strongly. The main solo parts are for the soprano and tenor.  Luba Orgonášová has the right timbre and vocal presence for this music and she impressed me. So did John Daszak who was not daunted by Janáček’s testing tessitura – Daszak’s profession of faith in the holy and apostolic church towards the end of the Creed was the thrilling moment that it should be.

 There is a fifth soloist in this work: the organist. Thomas Trotter gave a tremendous display, coming into his own completely in the wild organ solo which is the penultimate movement.  It was very exciting to hear that solo on the Kleist organ of Symphony Hall and, in a commanding and virtuoso performance, Trotter drew a wide range of sounds and contrasts from the mighty instrument.

 There probably isn’t a British choir that’s more familiar with this work than the CBSO Chorus – I think they first performed it well over thirty years ago. Their familiarity certainly showed here. Expertly prepared by Julian Wilkins, the choir sang with the tremendous assurance, flexibility, agility and depth of tone that we’ve long associated with this excellent choir.

 This was a fine performance of Janáček’s extraordinary score, which remains extraordinary no matter how often one hears it. It set the seal on a stimulating evening in Symphony Hall.”

Handel’s Theodora

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Thursday 6th February, 6:30pm

Town Hall

The English Concert

Harry Bicket conductor

Rosemary Joshua Theodora

Sarah Connolly Irene

Tim Mead Didymus

Kurt Streit Septimus

Neal Davies Valens

Choir of Trinity Church Wall Street, New York

Handel Theodora 160’

This concert has a running time of c 3 1⁄4 hours with two intervals of 20 and 15 minutes.

Handel rated Theodora more highly than the Messiah, and some say that this heartfelt tragedy of ancient Rome was his favourite of all his oratorios. For Harry Bicket and The English Concert it’s a neglected masterpiece, and with a quality cast that includes Sarah Connolly and Rosemary Joshua plus a fine American chamber choir, this should be a compelling sequel to last season’s critically-acclaimed performance of Radamisto.

Sung in English with English surtitles.




Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “But before any of these bracing leads, a hugely well-deserved mention for the chorus,  the American-based Choir of Trinity Wall Street (this Theodora has already toured the States from West Coast to East, winding up in New York at the Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall. See Stan Metzger’s review ).

One noticed something quite remarkable about their early choruses: a phenomenal attentiveness, which made their rhythmic sense as alive as anything in the performance; and a harmonising of timbre (across girls and men but in fact embracing both), which so far from restricting, only underwrote their unanimity of delivery. Then later, brilliant characterisation in the almost clodhopping descending patterns of the lusty Roman Venus- (and Flora-) worshippers – while swapping demeanour effortlessly for the serene Christian choir conclusion – and a capacity for small bits of coloratura, or virtual coloratura, than sometimes capped even the principals.     […]

[…]  No surprise that Sarah Connolly was absolutely wonderful in the soubrette role of Irene – but for a reason. Her first aria, and indeed much of her input, was sung so peaceably and serenely.  ‘As with my steps the morn’ grew from pianissimo to piano, and her reprise was more like quadruple and triple piano. The effect was utterly mesmerising. Connolly, uniquely, has the artistry to effect portamento (‘bane of virtue’), a device she never overuses but which brings maximum affect when she does. Every time she sang was a masterclass; ‘Thou art the light, the life, the way’ was quite sensational; her start to Act III is as moving as Britten’s Lucretia.      […]

[…] But the nicest surprise of all lay in another singer. This was the countertenor Tim Mead, as Theodora’s lover and fellow-Christian Didymus, who in Act 3 pays, like her, with his life. I heard Mead some years back and was underwhelmed: a diffident voice and thin stage presence. Now  he dominates, the sound is forceful, confident, often thrilling – the presence attractive and engaging. The tone and timbre are immensely alluring. There is a precision that goes with the assurance. His coloratura was second to none. ‘To thee, thou glorious son of worth’, where he is matched in duet by Theodora as they both brace for the worst, is lovely enough: ‘Streams of pleasure’, the Act 3 equivalent, even more so. But ‘Kind heaven, if virtue be thy care’ at the end of Act I, with attractively skedaddling violins, was an aria of breathtaking beauty, the clarity and precision at this moment when he determined, if necessary, to die matched by some delightful light decoration at the da capo: pure enchantment; Didymus’s big Act 2 aria, ‘Deeds of kindness to display’, was simply out of this world.”



Review by BH /”Admin” Lark Reviews:

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“Cast from some of the finest Handelians available and given the vigour of Harry Bicket’s conducting, this presentation could not fail; and so it proved.

Rosemary Joshua was as limpid a heroine as one could wish, and her Didymus, Tim Mead, a florid counter-tenor who brought genuine emotion to his singing. Sarah Connolly has some of Handel’s most moving music for Irene’s passionate support and consolation, and matched the more rugged approach of Kurt Streit’s Septimus.

Jonathan Best was a late replacement as Valens and seemed a little uncomfortable at first, but soon settled. The choir of Trinity Wall Street were new to me in terms of live performance and brought bounce and enthusiasm in addition to splendid articulation.”     …



Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “This Theodora, with Harry Bicket directing The English Concert from the keyboard, was ardent, stylish and eloquently performed – given the limitations of the material.

In the title role Rosemary Joshua’s sweet-toned lyric soprano was perfect for the spotless Christian virgin’s prayer Angels ever bright and fair, and was well complemented by Sarah Connolly’s rich well-focused mezzo-soprano as her friend Irene.

Handel wrote the role of Theodora’s lover the Roman soldier Didymus, a closet Christian convert, for a castrato and brilliantly exploited the voice’s ethereal qualities.

Countertenor Tim Mead floated some gorgeous high notes, gracefully caressing the words. Kurt Streit almost made the paper-thin Septimius into a credible character, vehemently railing against the “Dread fruits of Christian folly”.

Jonathan Best (a late replacement for indisposed Neal Davies) was gruff but reliable as Valens. The Choir of Trinity Wall Street was in fine voice, splendid both as bloodthirsty lustful pagans and pious Christians.”

The Dream of Gerontius

Thursday 12 April 2012 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor
Sarah Connolly  mezzo-soprano
Robert Murray  tenor
James Rutherford  baritone
CBSO Chorus  

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius 95′ 

“This is the best of me,” declared Edward Elgar on the score of The Dream of Gerontius – and this heart-rending vision of a lonely soul’s journey towards eternity might just be the greatest piece of British music ever written. Since its premiere in Birmingham 112 years ago, it’s become one of the CBSO’s signature works. Tonight Andris Nelsons takes his place in that great tradition, with a world-class team of soloists and an orchestra and chorus who have this music in their blood. Unmissable.

Unfortunately, Andris Nelsons has had to withdraw from this concert due to the illness of his daughter. We are very grateful to CBSO principal guest conductor Edward Gardner, who has agreed to conduct this performance.

Tenor Toby Spence has also been forced to withdraw from this concert due to illness, and we are grateful to Robert Murray who replaces him.


Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard:

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…     “A different, often more intimate approach is called for in Part II and Murray was equally successful here. He brought a pleasing lightness of tone and sense of repose to ‘How still it is’ and the extended dialogue with The Angel was done with fine sensitivity. Much later in Gerontius’ journey towards Judgement ‘I go before my judge’ – rightly singled out as a key moment by Stephen Johnson in his perceptive programme note – was an awestruck moment, superbly realised by Murray and Gardner. Murray was excellent in his last solo, ‘Take me away’. The opening phrase, taken thrillingly in one breath despite the broad tempo, was a great cry – as it should be – yet very well controlled. Murray gave a splendid, eloquent reading of what is surely an aria in all but name, crowning an impressive portrayal. ”     […]

[…]     “Even without the need for the conductor to keep his arms raised there was a long silence (43 seconds, and it seemed longer) after the last chord had died away. No one dared break the spell. That was just as it should have been and, in many ways, the silence spoke even more eloquently of the audience’s appreciation than did the prolonged ovation that followed. Elgar’s choral masterpiece had been well and eloquently served.

The concert was broadcast live by BBC Radio 3. It’s available for listening here for the next week. I shall certainly be listening again.”

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…      “Within these lavish paragraphs he was able to summon so much detail, whether from the perennially remarkable CBSO Chorus (and how fresh and youthful they sounded where necessary!) or from the responsive and supple orchestra itself.

There were two incidents I’d never noticed before in five decades of loving the work, but Gardner’s acuity brought them out: the suspenseful timpani roll over a prolonged organ pedal at the end of “Praise to the Holiest”, and the shriek from piccolos and other woodwind as the Soul of Gerontius glimpses the searing perfection of God for the minutest instant before gladly consigning himself to Purgatory.”     …

Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSouce:

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…      “The CBSO Chorus sang with relish in a piece that it has most likely tackled more often than other comparable choir, not least in the evanescent build-up to a spine-tingling ‘Praise to the Holiest’ – its contrapuntal dexterity admirably rendered despite a momentary falling-off in tension prior to the final refrain. The CBSO, too, was on fine form while taking Gardner’s predilection for incisive tempos firmly in its collective stride. Suffice to add that no-one rehearing the work, as well as those encountering it for the first time, could have failed to be impressed with the breadth, audacity and conviction of Elgar’s creative vision.”

Review by Andrew H. King, Bachtrack:

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…     “Murray’s Gerontius was at once feeble and passionate, unravelling Newman’s story of the ailing man facing death with excellent diction. Some high notes were ill-prepared but in such a taxing score (and at short notice) this was forgivable.

The chorus were prepared to an exemplary standard and they, along with their chorus master Simon Halsey, are to be commended for their abilities.”     […]

[…]     Radiant and warm, tender and rich in tone, Connolly excels in Elgar’s dramatic writing always opting for the more taxing notes where he provides easier alternatives.”     …


Review by Peter Reed, ClassicalSource (for same programme but at Barbican)

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Review by Igor Toronyi-Lalic, TheArtsDesk (for same programme but at Barbican)

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Blog post by Robert Hugill  (for same programme but at Barbican)

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Review by Barry Millington, London Evening Standard (for same programme but at Barbican)

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Review by Claire Seymour, Opera Today (for same programme but at Barbican)

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