Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday 23rd September, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra




  • Sibelius Finlandia, 8′
  • Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3, 44′
  • Nielsen Symphony No. 4 (Inextinguishable), 36′


Simon Trpčeski’s encore with Eduardo Vassallo –

Rachmaninov Cello Sonato – Third Movement


“Music is life,” declared Carl Nielsen, “and like it, inextinguishable.” And from volcanic opening to final life-and-death battle, Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony is one of those pieces that you just have to hear live. Birmingham audiences need no introduction to the fabulous Simon Trpčeski, in the grandest of romantic piano concertos, but this should be a powerful debut for conductor Cristian Măcelaru.


Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “Rachmaninoff once wrote that he conceived the first theme of the Third Concerto as something to be sung by the piano, and that’s exactly how it came across. It helped, of course, that Simon Trpčeski was the soloist. Trpčeski’s artistry is ripening gloriously: the energy, the clarity of touch and brilliance of articulation are as electrifying as ever, but his youthful flamboyance has evolved into a masterly calm and assurance at the keyboard. No histrionics here: cool as iced vodka, Trpčeski at one point reached casually into his pocket, unfolded a handkerchief and dabbed at his brow while the tutti swept by on all sides.

Meanwhile Măcelaru drew seldom-heard colours from the orchestral part: a distant glint of Russian nationalist jewellery in the finale’s col legno passage; and meltingly soft horns in the transition out of the first movement’s epic cadenza – which drew from Trpčeski, in turn, an exquisite tenderness of tone. I’ve heard more spectacular performances of this concerto, but rarely a more musical one.

Eduardo VassalloFor an encore, Trpčeski beckoned to the CBSO’s principal cello Eduardo Vassallo (pictured left by Upstream Photography) , and together they played the gentle third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata. Trpčeski always takes care over his encores (on one occasion assembling an impromptu Macedonian folk band), but this felt particularly intimate. Its appropriateness, and Trpčeski’s eagerness to share his applause, spoke volumes for his priorities as both artist and human being. 

Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony looked on paper like a rather more severe test for Măcelaru – not because in this anniversary year, we’ve heard it too many times (as if!), but because the CBSO has a Nielsen tradition dating back through Oramo and Rattle to Harold Gray’s cycle (the UK’s first) in the 1960s. All the more impressive, then, that he managed to say something distinctive about the piece from the very outset – and without any overt point-making or micromanagement.”     …


Review by David Fanning, Telegraph:

Click here for full review

…     “Trpčeski is one of the most bankable assets for the big concerto repertoire. His first movement cadenza was rock-solid, his scherzando episode in the slow movement scintillating in its clarity, and his entire finale a demonstration-quality display of pianistic fireworks. Through all this Măcelaru steered the accompaniment with close attention to balance and a near-telepathic sense of ensemble.

If there were still a few throwaway phrases from Trpčeski, and even some near-crossing of the line into jazzy nonchalance, those things were amply compensated for by the sweep and authority of his playing. His encore – a dreamy account of the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata with the CBSO’s Eduardo Vassallo – was an inspired initiative.

The second half was given over to Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony – The Inextinguishable. This may be the Dane’s best-known work, and the most direct in its impact thanks to its timpani duels in the finale. But it covers an enormous amount of ground in its 35 minutes, and can feel episodic unless the conductor keeps a firm grip on the structure.

Never tempted to over-react to passages of violent disruption, or, at the other extreme, to exaggerate the score’s repeated requests for calm, Măcelaru placed the climaxes with unerring instinct and led into and away from them with consummate skill.”     …


Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The central focus of the evening was not the post-interval symphony, but the first-half concerto. Simon Trpčeski walked out onto the stage with an air of supreme confidence. It was clear before a single note was played that he was here to enjoy himself, and through his composure he forged a connection with the audience that relaxed the hall even while he adjusted his stool. Sympathetically supported by the orchestra, his first notes teased the ear, hinting the theme, seducing the audience to fully engage with the music. Rachmaninov is famous for his long flowing lyrical lines and they require some deep interpretation to make them come off. As a virtuoso pianist himself, he was renowned for the exceptional technical demands of his compositions. Trpčeski was equal to both the musicality and the technique required, his fingers whirling, hammering, tickling, skipping and skating over the keyboard at his whim. The CBSO accompanied with some lush romantic strings. There were moments, however, where I felt they slightly overpowered the soloist. Nonetheless, I was able to immerse myself in the sheer joyous drama of the piece, so well played by Trpčeski, and by the conclusion I was quite elated.

Indeed, Trpčeski seemed to have anticipated the effect he had had on the audience and followed up with an unprogrammed but no-so-impromptu musical treat in a recital of Rachmaninov’s Sonata for Cello and Piano (the third movement). Ably rising to the challenge of playing alongside Trpčeski was CBSO principal cellist Eduardo Vassallo. The playing was delightful and serene, providing calm after the drama of the concerto that was just right for leading into the interval.    […]

[…]      Reflecting afterwards on the concert I could not help but think about the differences in this generation. Măcelaru clearly understood all three in real depth and was able to bring something new and insightful to all of them, particularly the Nielsen symphony. But the lasting memory of the night for me will be the golden touch of pianist Simon Trpčeski in what was a truly tremendous display of virtuosic artistry.”


Review by Rebecca Franks, Times (££)

Click here for full review

…     “Macelaru was not a showy presence but assured, steady and thoughtful, capable of letting the music breathe and tell its own story. His Sibelius Finlandia opened with a heavy tread, but was confidently steered to its triumphant end. And if Nielsen’s The Inextinguishable lacked that final crackle of electricity, it was still bold and compelling.

Each section of the CBSO gleamed: the strings meticulous and intense, with particularly gutsy violas, the wind sensitive and the brass glorious. And in the final movement, the duelling timpanists were wonderfully exhilarating – surely the embodiment of what Nielsen wanted this music to express, “the Elemental Will of Life”.


A to Z of the CBSO

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Saturday 19th September, 7.00pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Vivaldi Four Seasons (excerpt)
  • Zimmer Pirates of the Carribean
  • Williams – Star Wars = encore


Put 90 top-flight musicians on one stage, and there’s no limit to what they can do. Three centuries in the making, the symphony orchestra is still the ultimate piece of music technology: at home in the concert hall or the movie studio, and capable of summoning up over 300 years of music in breathtaking live sound. Tonight, Michael Seal and the full CBSO walk you through an A to Z of the orchestra: with music ranging from Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine to Hans Zimmer’s Pirates of the Caribbean!

If you’re not sure where to begin with the CBSO, come along for just a tenner to find out more. And if you’re a regular – why not bring a friend to introduce them?

Romantic Journeys

ThumbnailCBSO 2020Relax and Revitalise

Thursday 2nd October 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Ryan Wigglesworth  conductor/piano
Sarah Tynan  soprano

Sibelius: The Oceanides 10′
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9, K271 31′
Listen on Spotify

Wigglesworth: Augenlider 16′ Watch on YouTube

Debussy: La mer 23′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Mozart composed, directed and performed his own music. So does the remarkable young British musician Ryan Wigglesworth, and the 21-year old Mozart’s lively piano concerto is just one of the delightful waypoints on tonight’s musical voyage of discovery: a concert that begins on Sibelius’s sunlit Mediterranean and ends in Debussy’s storm-tossed English Channel – by way of Wigglesworth’s own, glittering homage to the Romantics.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Mediterranean Classics, Wednesday 22nd October
The Planets: CBSO Youth Orchestra, Sunday 2nd November
Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Thursday 16th April, 2015 & Saturday 18th April, 2015



Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “True, there were often times in his richly complex score (think Berg laced with Birtwistle) when even the impressive lung power of the excellent Sarah Tynan was overwhelmed; but in its quieter sections – the recitative-like Visionen against unison violins, and the closing moments of the final song – Wigglesworth’s approach to timbre and texture showed considerable imagination.

And this ear for instrumental detail made a vivid listening experience of the sea-themed works at the beginning and end of the programme. The Oceanides of Sibelius may have seemed a bit wait-and-see, but Debussy’s La Mer grabbed and held the attention throughout. Wigglesworth certainly pulled no punches to convey the visceral excitement of the storm-tossed finale, but it was the sparkling Jeux de vagues that provided the most polished, nuanced playing of the evening.”

Nelsons Conducts Brahms’ Fourth

  • Thumbnail     Pure Emotion

Wednesday 6 November 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Valeriy Sokolov  violin

Wagner: Lohengrin – Prelude to Act 1 9′

Sibelius: Violin Concerto 31′ Listen on Spotify
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 40′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Valeriy Sokolov’s encore – Bach:  Sarabande – Partita No 2 in D Minor

Brahms’s   Fourth Symphony begins with a sigh – and ends with a tempest. It might have   been his last symphony, but Brahms wasn’t going gently into the night, and Andris   Nelsons will bring everything he has to a musical tragedy of Shakespearean power.   It’s a long journey from the serene beauty of Wagner’s Lohengrin Prelude,   but with Valeriy Sokolov as the soloist in Sibelius’s lyrical Violin Concerto,   there’ll be no shortage of drama along the way. www.cbso.co.uk

“Valeriy Sokolov’s debut performance with the CBSO was  really special – don’t miss his return for Sibelius!” (Amy Fawcett, Viola)

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Nelsons conducts Brahms’s Third, Thursday 5thDecember

CBSO Youth Orchestra, Sunday 23rd February 2014

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Thursday 1st May 2014



Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Andris Nelsons was judicious to near-perfection. The strings had earlier shown they were on top form in a wondrously rapt Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner’s Lohengrin. In the Brahms finale they surged and carolled threatening to overwhelm the formal constraints but were held back by a hairsbreadth.

Nelsons is adept at the big sweeping moments but quieter details like Marie-Christine Zupancic’s ethereal flute lines were never allowed to be obscured. Pacing was excellent with a tender andante which never sagged and a high-stepping volatile scherzo: from first to last a really memorable performance.

The young Ukrainian violinist Valeriy Sokolov excelled in the first and last movements of Sibelius’s concerto. Warm rich playing, notes pinged in the middle, rapid double stopping that really sounded like two instruments and all the rest of the virtuoso armoury was on display.”     …

CBSO Youth Orchestra

  • Thumbnail           Discover

Sunday 3 November 2013 at 3.30pm

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

CBSO Youth Orchestra

Ilan Volkov   conductor

Allison Bell  soprano

Debussy: La Mer 23′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube
Messiaen: Poèmes pour Mi 27′

Sibelius: Symphony No. 5 31′

Sibelius’s   Fifth Symphony was inspired by a flight of swans. Debussy was drunk on the beauty   of the sea. And the young Messiaen put all his love for his new wife into nine   blissful songs. Gorgeous colours and big, big emotions: exactly what the CBSO   Youth Orchestra does best. So join Ilan Volkov and our superb young players   and share the joy of discovery, as together they bring this glorious music vibrantly   to life.  www.cbso.co.uk

If you like this concert, you might also like:

The Organ Symphony, Thursday 30th January 2014

CBSO Youth Orchestra, Sunday 23rd February 2014

Andris and Håkan in Concert, Wednesday 28th May 2014



Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “A singer without Allison Bell’s power and projection might have been overwhelmed by so much orchestral posturing (which Volkov admittedly did little to minimise), but this remarkable soprano coped with everything thrown at her, grabbing every opportunity for expressive display and, notably in the Alleluias of the first song, rejoicing in the sheer voluptuousness of the music.

After such hot stuff the exposed scoring of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5 left the players with little room to hide. Volkov’s cogently paced reading, though, was very persuasive, even if some individual contributions lacked added value. The finale in particular had a compelling sense of progression – and those wonderful hammer blows were perfectly executed.”  

Friday Night Classics: Classics at the Movies

Friday 1 November 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal  conductor

Claire Rutter  soprano

Barry Norman  presenter

Including music from:   Verdi: The Force of Destiny (Jean de Florette)

Catalani: Ebben? Ne andrò lontana (Diva)

Puccini: O mio babbino caro (A Room with a View)

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake (Black Swan & Billy Elliot)

Barber: Adagio for Strings (Platoon & The Elephant Man)

Herrmann: Salaambo’s Aria (Citizen Kane)

Sibelius: Finlandia (Die Hard 2)

Wagner: The Ride of the Valkyries (Apocalypse Now)

Korngold: Glück das mir verblieb (The Big Lebowski)

Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro (Trading Places)

Strauss: Blue Danube Waltz (2001: A Space Odyssey)

Britten: Playful Pizzicato (Moonrise Kingdom)

Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana (Raging Bull)

Puccini: Madam Butterfly (Fatal Attraction)

Saint-Saëns: Organ Symphony (Babe)

Encore: Rossini: William Tell Overture

You know that moment at the cinema when   you realise that you’ve heard that tune before – but you can’t quite put your   finger on it? Well, tonight, movie legend Barry Norman reveals all, in the sensational   3D-sound of the CBSO. You might think of the music of Sibelius, Puccini and   Barber as the soundtracks to Die Hard, Fatal Attraction and Platoon   – but it sounds even better when you hear it for real! www.cbso.co.uk

Flowers and Fables

Thursday 20 June 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Edward Gardner  conductor

Lucy Crowe  soprano

Sibelius: Symphony No. 3  26′

Lutoslawski: Chantefleurs et Chantefables 16′

Sibelius: Luonnotar 9′

Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 3 28′

Sibelius took the classical symphony and charged it with the freshness and energy of nature itself. Lutoslawski, meanwhile, launched brilliant musical fireworks into the grey skies of postwar Poland. Edward Gardner loves them both, and he begins and ends this concert with two of the twentieth century’s most original – and inspiring – symphonies. In between, something magical happens, as soprano Lucy Crowe re-tells Sibelius’s primal northern myth – and proves that Lutoslawski’s enchanted nursery rhymes aren’t just for children.

Lutoslawski   Centenary 2013: Woven Words by Philharmonia Orchestra.



Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

...     “Its successor was taken as a true slow movement, arguably ignoring Sibelius’s tempo marking but with the eloquent main theme possessing the right expressive lilt and the airborne transition into its final return magically rendered. Conversely, the finale unfolded at a relatively swift underlying pace such as brought a palpable emotional surge to its ambivalent initial half – then if what followed lacked the last degree of majesty, Gardner’s handling of its cumulative energy made for a gripping and decisive conclusion.

Some readers may remember the entrancing impression that Lutosławski’s final song-cycle Chantefleurs et Chantefables (1990) made on its first performance at the Proms two decades and more ago. Since then it has attracted a number of the most gifted sopranos – not least Lucy Crowe, whose delicate though never fey approach to Robert Desnos’s playful verse was engaging and affecting in equal measure. Gardner was always mindful to highlight instrumental detail in what is one of this composer’s most alluring scores – its sheer transparency of texture never belying the expressive acuity with which Lutosławski delineates the emotions of the animals, insects and flowers that populate these fanciful poems.”     …



Review by Christopher Thomas, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “The wit and whimsy of Lutoslawski’s engaging song cycle Chantefleurs et Chantefables could hardly be further from the muscular, aleatoric adventures of his Third Symphony. The French surrealist texts by Robert Desnos used by the composer colour a series of nine fleeting, vignette like songs imbued with abundant charm and a soundworld that places them closer to Britten or Ravel than the Lutoslawski of works such as Venetian Games and Mi-Parti.

Lucy Crowe’s rapid rise to stardom has seen her acquire an enviable reputation as one of the most sought after lyric sopranos around and her natural, engaging stage presence proved finely suited to the images of plants and animals depicted through the eyes of a child. For all their sense of wide eyed wonder, the songs make huge demands on the singer whilst weaving a kaleidoscopic web of accompaniment from the small instrumental forces utilised to breathtaking effect by the composer.

From the flower songs of La belle-de-nuit and La rose to the antics of the tortoise and the alligator, the delicacy and vocal athleticism of Lucy Crowe was remarkable in a performance that clearly found her many a new admirer amongst the Birmingham audience.

If it was a sense of delicate fragility and childlike innocence that Lucy Crowe brought to Lutoslawski’s box of natural delights in Chantefleurs et Chantefables, the contrast with the mysterious, darkly hued tones of Sibelius’s enigmatic Luonnotar could hardly have been more marked.

Crowe’s surety of pitch in her highest register allied with the sheer power of her delivery as Sibelius pushes the voice to its very limits in the storm fuelled central climax of his other worldly, Kalevala inspired tale of earthly creation proved magnificent enough, but it was the haunting, uneasy atmosphere of the close that left the audience in Symphony Hall spellbound. The extended silence in the hall as the final ethereal sounds settled spoke for itself.”     …