Czech Philharmonic perform Mahler

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package,
SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 and Orchestral Music

Friday 24th April, 7:30pm

Symphony Hall

Czech Philharmonic
CBSO Chorus
Jiří Bělohlávek conductor
Sarah Fox soprano
Jana Hrochová Wallingerová mezzo soprano
Josef Špaček violin

Bruch Violin Concerto No 1 24’
Mahler Symphony No 2, Resurrection 8

Mahler’s epic Resurrection Symphony has a very special place in the hearts of Birmingham audiences, and the opportunity to hear it played by an orchestra steeped in Mahler’s native central European tradition makes this one of the undoubted highlights of our season.

Birmingham’s own, world-renowned CBSO Chorus joins the Czech Philharmonic’s veteran music director Jiří Bělohlávek.

You can listen to a specially created playlist by clicking here .


Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

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…     “This was an excellent programme choice, a highly popular work from a German contemporary of Mahler, but centred on the romantic tradition that contrasted perfectly with the symphony’s soul searching solemnity. The virtuosic challenges were met by the Czech Philharmonic’s young leader, Josef Špaček. From the outset the conductor and orchestra were on top form, gauging the tempo, balance and warmth of sound perfectly. Špaček did not so much play over the orchestra, but worked within it, delivering an astoundingly mature performance for one still under thirty. His tone is rich and full and he was able to meet the technical demands of the concerto without any unnecessary fuss.

Rather than egotistically showcasing his lightning dexterity, Špaček is an unassuming musician who explores the finer nuances of the music and causes the listener to concentrate more on his interpretation than his skill. This was particularly noticeable in the Adagio where his phrasing matched and complemented the collective with lyrical precision. Špaček ensured the audience got more than a programme-filler with this concerto, and their response to him signalled that he completely won them over.

After the interval a lone figure looked down at the stalls from the magnificent organ over the rows of the choir seats accommodating the CBSO Chorus. They, in turn, sat above all conceivable manner of timpani, percussion, gongs and harps overseeing the large stage crammed full to the brim with the sections of the orchestra. At the centre, Jiří Bělohlávek somehow had to control this colossal cast. Furthermore he had to do so before a concert hall that has seen other great conductors, such as Andris Nelsons, deliver this piece to great acclaim. Indeed, the symphony has a special significance to Birmingham Symphony Hall, being the first piece ever performed here at its inaugural concert by the CBSO under Sir Simon Rattle. Could the Czechs, promising so much before the interval, deliver on the expectations that they had aroused?

The opening chord from the violins immediately dispelled any doubt, creating a tension that Bělohlávek never let up for a moment. The basses were strident and bold in their entry and the long first movement was underway. The balance between sections was consistently good throughout, regardless of the dynamics which went from a barely audible pianissimo to thunderclap fortissimo at the flick of Bělohlávek’s fingers. Here was a man in total control of a unified world class orchestra. There are no weak areas in orchestras of this quality, however one could not help but be impressed with the French horns as they paired sympathetically with the other instruments, reflecting through tone and timbre the ever-changing moods and dramatic dynamics of the piece. ”     …


Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “Bělohlávek allowed a two-three minute break before the second movement, in keeping with Mahler’s wishes (although perhaps slightly more than he had planned in order to settle everyone down after the annoying ripple of applause that greeted the two soloists). The triple-time of the Andante moderato was overtly stated by the baton of the ex-BBC SO maestro, the initialLändler theme clearly stated without any need for flamboyancy of stick; it was given a delightful airiness by the sonorous strings led by Irena Herajnová. Creating a contrast to the unresolved tension of the previous Todtenfeier as Mahler intended, there were further idyllic glimpses into the past life of our hero. A wallowing contentment among the Czech Philharmonic players infectiously penetrated the auditorium, culminating in the fluffiest of finishes from the pizzicato strings and the two harps.

The importance of the string section was underlined in the third movement, In ruhig fliessender Bewegung (with quietly flowing movement) yet the carefree attitude of youth had developed one of uncertainty and disenchantment. Based upon the song ‘St Antony and the Fishes’ its poetic makeup was peppered with cymbal crashes, piccolo squeaks and woodwind palpitations, together with a heroic reminder to the Titan of Symphony No 1.

Jana Hrochová Wallingerová instilled the necessary prayer-like atmosphere to the ‘Urlicht’ (Primal Light) a song from Des Knaben Wunderhorn; her opening O Röschen Rot! (O little red rose) was simply and sincerely stated, yet conveying vulnerability as befits man returning to God. While the attentive auditorium held their breath for the first four lines, the solo was given some heavenly oboe accompaniment. Then as the pace quickened with Da kam ich auf einen breiten Weg (There came I upon a broad path) it was the turn of leader Herajnová to add a luxurious lustre to the mezzo voice.

Judgement Day arrived with an almighty orchestral amalgam of sound for the fifth movement, In tempo des Scherzos – Langsam: Mysterioso. After the fade, expertly engineered by Bělohlávek, the first call from the off-stage horn was heard. A wonderful kaleidoscope of instrumental colour and texture from the orchestral ensemble followed, creating a feeling being in limbo. The dead were summoned with an amazing crescendo from the seven-strong percussion section, cut off with pinpoint precision. The return of the ‘March’ theme produced some fantastic ‘surround’ sound, superbly galvanised by Bělohlávek. The far-off brass, both left and right, plus fluidic tremolo from flute and piccolo introduced the hushed CBSO Chorus; initially seated as is their want, they delivered an intensity to Klopstock’s Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n (Rise again, yes, rise again) – a hair-tingling moment. Again the combined sound as Sarah Fox joined choir and orchestra was admirably balanced by Bělohlávek. As the drama of the resurrection was played out to Mahler’s additional text, Wallingerová’s O glaube, mein Herz, O glaube (O believe, my heart, O believe) was passionately rendered and Fox’s nicht bright and clear. Their two voices blended well for the duet O Schmerz (O pain) convincing in their conquest over death. Rising to sing Sterben werd’ ich (I shall die) – who could sing this mighty statement sitting down? – the full complement of performers glorified this ‘Resurrection’ in uplifting fashion.”

Opening Concert: Mahler’s Resurrection

Saturday 15 September 2012 at 7.00pm

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

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor
Sarah Fox soprano
Mihoko Fujimura mezzo-soprano
CBSO Chorus

Strauss: Metamorphosen 26′
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) 77′ Listen on Spotify

Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony starts with a funeral march, and finishes with the end of the world itself. And if that sounds like a spectacular opening to our season, just wait till you hear Andris Nelsons, a super-size CBSO and the massed voices of the CBSO Chorus committing body and soul to some of the most thrilling, heart-lifting music ever composed. Richard Strauss’s impassioned wartime masterpiece makes Mahler’s vision shine even more brightly. After this summer’s residency at the prestigious Lucerne Festival, this is sure to be a momentous opening to the CBSO season.

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard:

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…      “Amid much distinguished and eloquent playing the sinuous contributions of leader Laurence Jackson regularly stood out. Nelsons kept the music moving forward with good purpose so that warmth of phrasing never slipped over into sentimentality. As the piece progressed he built the tension incrementally until the music achieved a final climax of great ardour before sinking back to a hushed yet intense conclusion. Nelsons and the CBSO are making a series of recordings of the orchestral music of Strauss and I hope they’ll include Metamorphosen.     […]

[…]     Nelsons unleashed the vast finale most excitingly and then proceeded to direct a splendidly theatrical, gripping account of this huge symphonic fresco. The offstage recesses of Symphony Hall are ideal for the offstage brass contributions and these came across to excellent effect here. It seemed to me that Nelson’s pacing of the finale was ideal, both in terms of individual episodes and the overall structure. The main allegro episode found the CBSO playing as if their lives depended on it; this was real edge-of-the seat stuff and it led to a climax immediately before the groβe Appell that was truly cataclysmic. The groβe Appell itself is a moment of pure musical theatre and it was splendidly realised here; the offstage brass calls – the Last Trump – echoed with a proper sense of awe and Marie-Christine Zupancic’s flute provided the nightingale’s last flickerings of earthly life.”     …

Review by Rohan Shotton, BachTrack:

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…     “The intensity seemed to grow with every phase early on, each one meticulously sculpted. The balance between entwining solo lines and ensemble playing was perfect, each player giving the impression of knowing the score closely enough to recognise where the next solo line would appear from and when to lock into tight togetherness.”     […]

[…]     Another thunderous outburst announced the fifth movement, and the ensuing gentle introduction to the Resurrection Hymn’s perfect fifth motif and ascending five-note scale was treated with magical reverence. As in the opening movement, Nelsons’ fine command of architecture shaped a coherent path to the conclusion, past jubilant fanfare outbursts and earthquake rumbles from the percussion section. A particularly pleasing moment came when the offstage trumpets played from high up on both sides of the hall, giving a curious sense of cathedral-like space. The entry of the seated chorus was beautifully sung, and soprano Sarah Fox’s voice emerged gently from the choral sound with excellent control. Nelsons pushed onward to the final climactic proclamation of resurrection with much lunging and leaping. When it arrived, one could almost feel the wind from the vast forces, with chorus, organ and offstage brass at full pelt. It was a monumental, shattering conclusion to a magnificent performance, leaving grown men dabbing at their eyes amid the cheers.”     *****

Review by Diane Parkes, BehindtheArras:

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…     “And half measures will not do – the symphony calls for exact attention to detail, real passion for music and sweeping volume levels which range from the light and playful waltz to the thundering finale.

There was little doubt that under the baton of CBSO music director Andris Nelsons, CBSO mastered this masterpiece. The minutes raced by so that when the finale arrived it was almost a surprise the time had passed so quickly.

The CBSO Chorus was equally at home with the piece from the gentle susurrations calling for eternal life to the victorious climax of resurrection.”     …



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “And at the end, a standing ovation, and the players’ heartwarming refusal to steal any of their beloved conductor’s thunder. Applause from a packed audience and all performers was all directed at this one man, whose genuine enthusiasm, unflashy brilliance and boundless musicality continues to reinforce the consolidation of the CBSO as a major force on the world stage.”

The Planets

Wednesday 15 February 2012 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner conductor
Sarah Fox soprano
Pamela Helen Stephen mezzo
Kostas Smoriginas bass
CBSO Chorus

Dukas: La Péri 19′
Szymanowski: Stabat Mater 23′ Listen on Spotify
Holst: The Planets 55′ Listen on Spotify

Strange new worlds… Holst’s Planets Suite isn’t just famous for great tunes like Jupiter and Mars; it’s a musical odyssey to infinity and beyond, filled with sounds of jaw-dropping strangeness and beauty. It’ll be a dazzling showcase for the CBSO’s superb young principal guest conductor Edward Gardner – and he’ll be our guide on two more fantastic journeys: Szymanowski’s ravishing Stabat Mater written in the 1920s, and the sensuous oriental dreamscape of Dukas’s La Péri, part of our celebration of the year 1912.

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…    “Gardner’s accounts of all three works were startlingly vivid, and every section of the CBSO played superbly for him. His account of La Péri, complete with the rather incongruous opening fanfare that some conductors omit, was the biggest treat, its textures glitteringly iridescent, its climaxes overwhelming. The Syzmanowski was held slightly in check and emerged as refined rather than robust, though the clarity of the soloists – soprano Sarah Fox, mezzo Pamela Helen Stephen and bass-baritone Kostas Smoriginas – was obviously one of the benefits of Gardner’s care for every texture and line. The CBSO Chorus even managed to get some of the words of the Polish text across.

There was a brisk directness about The Planets, too, as if Gardner were intent on demonstrating how fundamentally un-English Holst’s score really is.”     …

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Then, for the ensuing “poeme danse” the orchestra came up trumps with sinuous, writhing woodwind, strings voluptuously yearning and fluttering (the violins crowning the wonderful main theme with the most glorious rendering of its countermelody I have ever heard), percussion colourful and teasing.

The ending is quietly magical, as is that of Szymanowski’s ‘Stabat Mater’, a work whose medievalism actually imparts a timeless quality, and whose clearly-defined musical units make it cohere like a mosaic.

Gardner, such an enthusiast for Polish music, brought his natural operatic flair to this account, presiding over penetrating yet thoughtful contributions from vocal soloists Sarah Fox, Pamela Helen Stephen and Kostas Smoriginas, and relishing the legendary expertise of the CBSO Chorus, not only in the often Mussorgkyan and Stravinskyan choral textures, but also in their impeccable Polish delivery.”     …

Conductor Edward Gardner delights in the energy of the CBSO – Click here for Birmingham Post Article by Christopher Morley