Sir Simon Rattle conducts The Dream of Gerontius

BICS 2015/16

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 Concert Package,
SoundBite and Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16

Tuesday 8th September

Symphony Hall

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle conductor
Magdalena Kožená mezzo-soprano
Toby Spence tenor
Roderick Williams baritone
BBC Proms Youth Choir

Elgar The Dream of Gerontius 100’

Sir Simon Rattle returns to the hall he was so instrumental in the creation of, with one of the world’s greatest orchestras, three world-class soloists, and a massed choir drawn from the entire UK.

The work? Elgar’s supreme choral masterpiece, The Dream of Gerontius. It’s been performed many times in Birmingham since its premiere here in 1900 – but never quite like this.

Self-recommending.

At the bottom of his completed Gerontius manuscript, Elgar scribbled a few lines of Ruskin, including the words, ‘this is the best of me.’ Few would argue with him – this extraordinary oratorio, first premiered in Birmingham in 1900, is arguably Elgar’s finest work, and with former CBSO conductor Sir Simon Rattle at the helm, his great masterpiece really is ‘coming home.’

BBC Music Magazine Editor | Oliver Condy

Choir, Choir boxes and Stalls front four rows not available.
We are very grateful to Mrs Julian Blackwell for her generous support of this concert.

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

“It is always fascinating to hear great European orchestras play Elgar. Twenty-five years ago, Simon Rattle performed and recorded The Dream of Gerontius in Birmingham with his then orchestra, the CBSO. Now returning to the city and the work, he had the tonal resources of the Vienna Philharmonic at his disposal, and certainly made full use of them – encouraging the richest, dark string tone in the prelude to the first part of the oratorio, and allowing the brass to exert a wonderfully controlled authority in the climaxes.

That soundworld provided the foundation for a performance of persuasive dramatic power and sometimes enormous intensity. Rattle nowadays has a tendency to mould musical paragraphs in a slightly self-conscious, expressive way, but there wasn’t too much evidence of that here. Toby Spence was the Gerontius, and though his voice is not that of a heldentenor, his musicality and suave, even tone were more than ample compensation; only his outburst at Sanctus Fortis could have done with a bit more urgency and heft. Roderick Williams was the Priest and the Angel of the Agony, and added a dark edge to his normally honey-light baritone without losing any of his attention to verbal detail, or his perfect balance of every phrase.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The Dream of Gerontius is a work which lives and breathes through its orchestral fabric, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra did its textures and timbres proud. What a difference various conductors make: I have heard this august orchestra sound dire under certain carvers, but Simon Rattle here encouraged the players to breathe life into this amazing score, realising that there are not just Wagnerian undercurrents to tickle their fancy but also so many other genuine depths of utterance. Particular praise to the lower strings for authority and presence.

Orchestrally this was a triumph, and almost so chorally, too. The fresh voices of the BBC Proms Youth Choir under the expert tutelage of Simon Halsey sounded wonderfully innocent as Angelicals, but were too many, and perhaps too unspoilt, to spit out the venom of the Demons’ Chorus with any harsh snarlings in the perfectly-judged acoustic of Symphony Hall. Things might be better in the vast reaches of the Royal Albert Hall when this performance is repeated at the BBC Proms on Friday.”     …

CBSO Benevolent Fund Concert

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Sunday 11 May 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Sir Simon Rattle  conductor
Peter Donohoe  piano

Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3 44′
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 45′

When Sir Simon Rattle comes home to Birmingham, it’s always a special occasion. But with Sir Simon giving his services gratis in support of the CBSO Benevolent Fund*, this concert should be truly out of the ordinary – as he joins old friend Peter Donohoe in Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto, and conducts Brahms’s stirring First Symphony the way only he can. The world’s greatest music, made in Birmingham.

*The CBSO Benevolent Fund, registered friendly society 735F, exists to support CBSO players and staff, past and present, at times of ill-health or other hardship.

 *** To donate to the CBSO Benevolent Fund – see http://www.cbsobenfund.org.uk/ *** (“Donate” Paypal/credit card button, bottom of page)

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “This work needs giant technique to deliver it with conviction and Donohoe played it as if visited by the spirit of Rachmaninov. His thunderous percussive power was able to match the orchestra at its most forceful, yet the filigree passagework danced gracefully. Rattle helped the CBSO strings spin luscious lines in the central Adagio intermezzo, with the violas capturing something unmistakably Russian and soulful. Donohoe introduced the contrasting capriciousness with glee. The fire and passion of the closing part of the last movement brought the performance to a magnificent climax. Not surprisingly, the audience erupted.

It felt as though only Brahms could match such drama, and the CBSO played his First Symphony with a richness and expansiveness of sound that was gloriously all-enveloping. Rattle also coaxed out extremes of pianissimo as well as an easy fluidity. To the finale, he gave first an immense nobility and then a great urgency of purpose. It was all heady stuff.”

*****

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The second movement Adagio revealed the extent to which Rattle had transformed the sound of the orchestra for this concert. The string sound was sumptuous and the conductor never ceased to coax yet more depth of tone from the players. Dark clouds were cast by an impressive viola section from which Donohoe emerged, in complete command of the movement, soulful without being overly sentimental. The eruption into the finale was as exciting as it ought to be and Rattle, barely needing to make reference to the score, used deftly concise movements in order to marshal his orchestral forces in step with the soloist. Donohoe conjured delightfully feather-light moments and was matched by some fantastic pianissimo playing in the orchestra. There was a palpable crackle of energy in the orchestral response as the concluding march gathered pace and the smiles of the players spoke volumes: this was a memorable performance.     […]

[…]     A master of this hall, Rattle barely glanced at the horns and brass, knowing that they need little encouragement to be heard. Throughout, the conductor’s attention was always galvanising the string sound. The second movement was a major beneficiary of this approach, again with small details like the hand-stopped horn note at the start all of a piece with Rattle in charge. The third movement was the dreamy interlude it should be. Brahms turned the late Classical notion of a scherzo and trio on its head in this symphony: the central section here becoming frenzied and exciting in comparison with the outer sections. Rattle continued straight into the final movement without pause. He and the orchestra built up the psychodrama effectively until the first thunderclap moment heralds the glorious horn melody, played here by Katy Woolley (Principal Horn of The Philharmonia). The movement became a riot of symphonic detail in Rattle’s hands before shockingly collapsing at the second thunderclap as Brahms commands. The coda was taken at an exciting but dignified gallop, with the triumphant brass chorale mercifully broadened only slightly for effect before a rapturous finish.”

*****

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Both he and Donohoe were on fire in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto (Donohoe’s 149th performance, he told me, of what he regards as the most difficult concerto in the repertoire). Donohoe’s delivery of the solo part was formidable, crisply articulated, dynamics beautifully judged (though what state the piano was in at the end I can’t imagine), and leonine at the crowning conclusion. Rattle’s orchestra collaborated as supportive listeners, always surging and well-balanced. And many people agreed with me that this was a performance which should have been commercially recorded.

Then came Brahms’ First Symphony, Rattle conjuring a huge string sound, sonorously-phrased, concertmaster Laurence Jackson leading, a firm bass foundation (perhaps an influence from Rattle’s Berlin), and wonderful wind solos. The brass chorale in the finale was arresting.

And all of this on minimal rehearsal time, as all services were free. I want Rattle for Conductor Emeritus, and will be writing more about that.”

*****

 

 

Sir Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic

Birmingham International Concert Season 2011/12

Saturday 16th  June 2012

Symphony Hall

Vienna Philharmonic
Sir Simon Rattle conductor

Brahms Symphony No 3 33’
Webern Six Pieces for Orchestra 13’
Schumann Symphony No 3, Rhenish 32’
 

21 years since he conducted the opening concerts of Symphony Hall, Sir Simon Rattle returns at the helm of one of the world’s very greatest orchestras.

BBC Music magazine’s Editor, Oliver Condy, recommends tonight’s concert: “Now this really is a wonderful programme. Just add Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic, and you’ll be in for one of the finest concert experiences of the season – anywhere.”     www.thsh.co.uk

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “For the Schumann there was some reduction in the size of the strings – one desk less in each section. The first movement was played –and conducted – with energy, brio and good cheer; I loved the way the horns rang out heroically. At times the music fairly bounded along. In the past it was alleged by some that Schumann was a composer whose orchestral scoring was too thick; there was no evidence of that in this performance. The second movement had a nice outdoor feel to it; what I might call “cultivated rusticity”. It was clear that Rattle was thoroughly enjoying the music. He shaped the third movement beautifully and the VPO played it with great sensitivity. The fourth movement, inspired by Schumann’s visit to Cologne Cathedral was sonorous and noble and then, after this solemnity, Rattle figuratively took us out into the sunshine with a reading of the finale that radiated well-being and optimism.”     …

Review by Rohann Shotton, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “Robert Schumann’s Rhenish symphony, third in publication but final in composition, is primarily a product of the Romantic era, but with frequent backward glances in its moments of crisp, Classical-style scoring. Its five movements were inspired by a visit to Cologne and the Rhine, though there is poignancy in this: slowly losing his mind, the composer attempted suicide by throwing himself into the river in 1854. The Rhenish, though, shows no signs of such strife. Rattle charged the grand first movement boldly and briskly, backed by some vigorous horn playing. The ‘Vienna horns’ used by this orchestra are reputably better suited to legato playing than conventional instruments and the section were in fine form this evening, warm and spacious in the first two movements and powering towards the symphony’s boisterous conclusion later on.”     …

 

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Some of Rattle’s shadings verged on the expressionistic, a trait there a-plenty in Webern’s Six Orchestral Pieces. These elliptical miniatures reward concentration upon every detail, every one of which was deftly pointed here, yet within an overall arching line. The standard orchestra was augmented by a huge influx of percussion kit. Extragavant regarding transportation costs? Perhaps; but the added-value of what we heard was immeasurable. So, finally, to Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ Symphony (though catalogued as his third, in fact his final), its leaping, joyous soundscapes so vividly realised here. Horns are all-important to German Romantic-period music, and the VPO ones rose wonderfully to the challenge.”     …
***** 

 

Review by Colin Anderson, for same programme at Barbican Centre:

Click here for full review

Birmingham Mahler Cycle: Sir Simon Rattle Conducts Das Lied von der Erde

Sunday 12 June 2011 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Sir Simon Rattle conductor
Jane Irwin mezzo-soprano
Michael Schade tenor

Messiaen: Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum 26′
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (sung in German with English surtitles) 59′

Twenty years to the day since Sir Simon Rattle and the CBSO inaugurated Birmingham’s brand new Symphony Hall, the legend returns. Sir Simon, mezzo Magdalena Kožená and tenor Michael Schade bring down the curtain on Birmingham’s centenary Mahler Cycle with the symphony that Mahler refused to call his Ninth, the heart-rending Das Lied von der Erde. Less a meditation on death, more a rapturous love-letter to the joys of life, Mahler simply doesn’t get more personal – or more beautiful. The evening opens with a very different (but no less transcendent) meditation on mortality, by another composer who came to define Sir Simon’s years at Symphony Hall: the late Olivier Messiaen. Unmissable.

Please note that Magdalena Kožená has withdrawn from this performance due to illness. We are grateful to Jane Irwin, who replaces her at short notice.

 Sold out – Returns only

Review by Stephen Walsh, TheArtsDesk:

http://www.theartsdesk.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=3888:das-lied-von-der-erde-cbso-rattle-birmingham-classical-review&Itemid=24

…     “The CBSO were on terrific form throughout, but nowhere more than in the lovely wind solos that track the mezzo-soprano, from the blue autumn mists of “Der Einsame im Herbst” to the eternal blue distance of “Der Abschied”. And Jane Irwin, standing in at short notice for the indisposed Magdalena Kožená, matched them in the sensitivity of her response to words and situation, though she had some difficulty filling out her sound in the low registers.”     …

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/jun/13/cbso-rattle-review

…     “Words and phrases were coloured with great precision, and, like the orchestra’s solo woodwind, Irwin relished the freedom that Rattle’s expansive conducting allowed her. Even in the final Abschied, nothing sounded too slow or indulgent, just naturally paced, with little of the expressive moulding that can seem rather mannered in some of Rattle’s Berlin performances. Michael Schade also showed he is one of that select band of tenors who can tackle this work without being totally overwhelmed by the orchestra.”     …

Blog post review by Norman Lebrecht, ArtsJournal:

http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2011/06/and-now-for-last-nights-cancellation/

…     “But Jane Irwin is a singer of immense character and daring who dropped on occasion to pianissimo, drawing feather-light sounds from the orchestral soloists, outstanding among them the flute (Marie-Christine Zupancic), piccolo (Andrew Lane), bassoon (Gretha Tuls) and leader (Zoe Beyers).

 The Abschied achieved a stark cohesion. Rattle played down the agonies of parting with a practised flutter of bucolic beauty spots.”     …
 
 
Review by John Quinn, SeenAndHeard:
…     “This was a magnificent performance, which Rattle controlled superbly and with great authority. I thought his judgement of pacing was ideal and, amid all the frequent tumult, his control of silent pauses – and the way he ensured the softest passages in Messiaen’s score made their mark – was masterly.”     […]
 
[…] “Nowhere was this more apparent than in her account of ‘Der Abschied.’ This is a huge challenge for a singer but one to which Jane Irwin rose marvellously. She encompassed all aspects of the song successfully. I admired her sensitivity and sense of intimacy at such passages as ‘Ich suche Ruhe für mein einsam Herz’. Just as impressive was the radiant outpouring at ‘Die liebe Erde allüberall…’, a moment superbly prepared by Rattle, and Miss Irwin’s ardour at ‘O Schönheit! O ewigen Liebens…’ This was a memorable, dignified and moving performance.” […]
 
[…] “He drew from the CBSO playing of great distinction and there was a familiarity, engagement and empathy that made it seem as if he’d never been away. At the end of the work, Rattle drew out the last tendrils of music with the greatest possible refinement. When the last sound died away the silence was as long as I’ve ever heard in a concert hall, Rattle holding the moment and the audience reluctant to break the spell. The silence spoke volumes.I’ve been lucky enough to attend several very fine Mahler performances over the last year of so – not all of them in Birmingham – but this was in a different league.”      …
 
 
Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…     “Das Lied just stunned an overflowing audience into silence. There was a whole gamut of orchestral gesture here (one wouldn’t expect anything less from a composer who was probably the world’s greatest-ever conductor), all teased out by Rattle and the willing CBSO; horns, desolate flute and questing oboe line up for particular praise.”     …

 

Blog post review by Tam Pollard re same programme but at Aldeburgh Festival:

http://www.wheresrunnicles.com/2011/06/rattle-and-cbso-open-2011-aldeburgh.html

…     “Here was yet more evidence of just what an exception and world class ensemble the CBSO are: from the rich string textures, to quiet playing of the highest calibre, to fabulous solo performances, it was both an orchestral masterclass and an absolute treat to witness. ”     …