Saturday 17th January 2015 at 7.00pm
Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
David Afkham conductor
Brett Polegato baritone
Webern: Passacaglia, Op.1 11′
Mahler: Songs of a Wayfarer 14′
Schubert: Symphony No. 9 (The Great) 57′
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There’s nothing in all music to compare with Schubert’s monumental Ninth Symphony. Some hear it as a challenge to Beethoven, others hear it as a summer journey through a sunlit world of melody. Either way, it’s a wonderful Birmingham debut for the charismatic young German conductor David Afkham, and a magical complement to Mahler’s ever-fresh Songs of a Wayfarer. www.cbso.co.uk
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Review by Sam Chapman, ThePublicReviews:
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… “However, on this occasion, Anton Webern’s Passacaglia, Op.1 opens the evening. The CBSO, led by David Afkham ranges from lyrical to passionate where appropriate. The pizzicato string sections are well controlled during this piece.
Gustav Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer is performed by the baritone Brett Polegato; who among other credits has performances at La Scala and l’Opera National de Paris to his name. His clear and intelligently used voice is a pleasure to listen to; however, the performance could benefit from more connection with the text.
The sublime orchestration and changes of mood in Schubert’s ‘Great’ symphony make it incredibly fulfilling to listen to from start to end: it is like a novel full of surprises that leaves a pang of loss once it has come to a close. David Afkham leads the CBSO intelligently, and the attention to the finer details really gives the piece the grand feel it requires. The string section is a joy to listen to, the triplet’s at the piece’s finale lay down a marker and make the performance a great success, if just short of being truly rousing.” … (sic)
Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb: (for the matinee concert with different “overture”)
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… “Afkham demonstrated his orchestral accompaniment skills in the second item: Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) with baritone Brett Polegato sharing the podium. Throughout, the woodwind section provided magnificent support with clarinettists Oliver Janes and Joanna Patton getting things off to a cracking start in Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht (When my darling has her wedding). Billed as a much sought-after lyric-baritone, I expected a more tender ‘ich’ as this wayfarer retired into his ‘traurigen Tag’ and I would have liked more contrast in the middle section as the beauty of the world is envisaged, prior to gloom overtaking him again. Mahler’s love of nature came across in the second movement, ‘Ging heut Morgen übers Feld’ (I Went This Morning over the Field) with the flutes of Marie-Christine Zupancic and Veronika Klirova prominent, yet this joyful mood did not seem reflected in Polegato’s body language;. However his closing Nein, nein, das ich mein, mir nimmer kann! did carry the right timbre. The despair of the wayfarer reached a climax in ‘Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer’ (I have a gleaming knife) mirrored by some ferocious string playing and although Polegato’s diction was always excellent, I did not experience the sheer agony the text portrays; any sensations of the cold steel were absent. The fourth song ‘Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz’ (The two blue eyes of my beloved) provides a resolution to the cycle, notable for its reference to an attachment Mahler had with the singer Johanna Richter from the Kassel Opera House. It also contains a mention of the Lindenbaum, following in the footsteps of his Germanic forefather Franz Schubert and his Winterreise (Winter Journey). All round this was the best execution of the four songs with Polegato’s fine communication of the dénouement and the soloist on the same wavelength as Afkham and the CBSO players.
The empathy Afkham had clearly struck with the CBSO continued in the main contribution to the matinée, Schubert’s Symphony No 9, the Great C Major. Above all they conveyed the expansive nature of the piece, driving relentlessly forward with a meaningful and measured pace, yet never losing sight of the plethora of Schubertian melody that infuses the 1825 score. The horn section got the Andante section of the first movement off to a glorious start (worthy of them being the first orchestral section to be signalled out by Afkham at the close) their beautiful theme suggestive of the beginning of a country stroll, a walk which other sections of the orchestra took turns to lead: the strings led by Laurence Jackson eagerly took up the motif, sonorously echoed by the woodwind. As the opening movement continued the trombone section of Edward Jones, Anthony Howe and David Vines (bass trombone) were soon demonstrating their strapping dexterities, adding their variation to the opening theme, enthusiastically taking the lyrical lead. In his pre-concert address CBSO violinist David Gregory had drawn attention to the symphony’s extensive use of trombones and enlisted the help of the CBSO three-man section to prove his point; we saw what he meant! Afkham moved effortlessly into the Allegro ma non troppo section, vividly highlighting the variety of colours Schubert used to expand his sonata form.” …
Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post: (for the matinee concert with different “overture”)
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… “But what actually can anyone do with Schubert’s interminable Ninth Symphony?
Just give clear downbeats, keep counting the bars, and remember if you’re going to repeat sections or not. Afkham ticked all those boxes, and ticking away with him throughout were the amazing CBSO strings, so controlled in the infernal, eternal triplet figurations which spin out the finale to paid-by-the-note lengths.
What did help keep the interest alive here was Afkham’s cherishing of inner detail (possibly Schubert’s chamber-music writ large on this overblown canvas), and the sturdy, resonant horns, just two of them sounding like a huge choir, abetted by noble trombones.” …