CBSO New CDs

Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Volume 3 –

CBSO and CBSO Chorus with Edward Gardner and Sophie Bevan and Mary Bevan

Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Op.27 and Symphony No 2 in B Flat Major

Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Vol. 3

is now available

Click here to buy online (all volumes here)

or visit the Symphony Hall Gift Shop

*****

Tchaikovsky – Manfred Symphony and Marche Slave –

CBSO with Andris Nelsons

Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony & Marche slave

Available in the Symphony Hall Gift Shop now;

released 6th April 2015 elsewhere –

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Der Rosenkavalier

ThumbnailPure Emotion

Saturday 24th May 2014 at 4.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Soile Isokoski  Marschallin
Alice Coote  Octavian
Sophie Bevan  Sophie
Franz Hawlata  Ochs
Mark Stone  Faninal
Bonaventura Bottone  Valzacchi
Pamela Helen Stephen  Annina
Elaine McKrill  Marchande de Modes / Marianne
Ted Schmitz  Major Domos / Innkeeper
Ji-Min Park  Italian Tenor
Eddie Wade  Notary / Police Inspector / Servant
CBSO Chorus  
CBSO Youth Chorus  

Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier (sung in German, with English surtitles) 206′

Love conquers everything, so they say… but what about Time? In a fairytale Vienna, the beautiful Marschallin and her teenage lover are about to discover that a single silver rose can turn the world upside down. Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier is an opera that ravishes the ear, then breaks your heart to the sound of a waltz. Andris Nelsons has assembled a truly world-class cast for what is sure to be a highlight of the season, in his first ever concert performance of the sweetest and most sensuous opera of all time.

The approximate running times of Acts 1, 2 & 3 are 75’, 63’ and 68’ respectively. There will be a 30-minute interval after Act 1 and a one-hour interval after Act 2.

“I think this is my favourite piece of music. The music is incredible, so powerful.It’s romantic, passionate, beautiful and achingly sad. Every time I hear the end I get goose-bumps and usually cry. The singers will be wonderful,the story they will tell is a story of love,discovering love, setting a loved one free but it’s also funny and it will make you laugh. It will be such a special evening.” (Jane Wright, Violin)

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If you like this concert, you might also like:

Strauss and Shakespeare, Wednesday 18th June
Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, Thursday 19th June

 

A few reactions….*here*

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Review by LietoFineLondon, WordPressBlog:

Click here for full review

…    As her Octavian, Alice Coote married a beautifully bronzed and shining tone with incredible acting skill. Her comic turn and sense of timing with Ochs was brilliant and combined with the vocal splendour of her singing. There was a warmth and brilliance to her tone that didn’t bleach in the upper ranges and her technique – demonstrated in her ability to scale down her voice when appropriate – demonstrates what a unique and special talent she has.

And Sophie Bevan provided a steely Sophie. In character that is. Vocally she was equally splendid. Her lower and middle range has a beautiful smokiness to it and when she effortlessly rose to stratospheric heights in the Second Act it was breathtaking.

The remaining cast members all performed their roles with great vocal and acting aplomb. Special mention must go to Ji-Min Park’s Italian Tenor (and for his two handed farewell at the end of the evening); to Pamela Helen Stephen’s Annina and to Elaine McKrill’s Marianne Leitmetzerin. And also to Paul Curivici – his bright tenor promises a bright future.

And the final trio – let’s admit it – is often the ultimate reason for attending Der Rosenkavalier. Not only because it is the emotional pay-off we have known was going to happen from the Marschallin’s monologue in Act One, but also because it is the most sublime piece of music Strauss ever wrote.

And in Symphony Hall it was perfection.

Andris Nelsons daringly took the trio at a slower tempo than I’ve heard in a while. But he never lost control of its various strands, unfolding the glorious music with an authority that demonstrated he clearly knew the overall architecture of this opera. And not once did he allow the singers – as is often the case – to drown one another out. Each of the three vocal lines was clear and distinct as he drew them to that crushing climax at the Marschallin’s In Gottes Namen at which point the singers – and the audience – were overwhelmed by the orchestra. As Strauss wanted.

How anything could follow that was impossible to consider but Mesdames Coote and Bevan then performed the most sublime Ist ein Traum, scaling their voices back to the finest pianissimi I’ve ever heard.”     …

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “The transcendent beauty of the final scenes of acts one and three were most affecting, with Isokoski’s elegance of line controlling both the Marschallin’s emotions and her heightened awareness of the inevitability of losing her lover to a younger woman. Coote’s ebullience and acute sensitivity was crucial to balancing comedy and sadness, and Hawlata as an oafish Ochs gave a vocal tour de force. Milking every possible opportunity, he used both conductor and podium as pivotal points in the stage business.

The trappings of a full-scale production were hardly missed. Mark Stone‘s Faninal was highly impressive, Ji-Min Park shone as the Italian tenor and the CBSO gave even moments of operatic mayhem real clarity. Nelsons, meanwhile, drew luscious textures and transparent detail throughout, his immaculate handling of the sheer bliss of Strauss’s ending eclipsing all else.”

*****

 

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Review by David Nice, ArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “From Act Two onwards, though, the performance fired on all cylinders. You can take the Presentation of the Rose as slow as you like, like Bernstein, and so long as the singers are up to it, the magic will work. As it did here, with Bevan’s ripe sound making hers at times a more voluptuous upper voice than Isokoski’s,even if its slimming to float was not as ecstatic as Lucy Crowe’s for Elder. The second duet, usually cast in the shade, was as luminously other-worldly as I’ve heard it, and with Hawlata waxing ever more boisterous, the shape of the act from its rumbustious climax down to the famous waltz scene went like a dream.

It usually feels strange when our Knight of the Rose takes the last bow, and rarely gets the biggest applause, but mine was certainly that for Alice Coote’s Octavian: full-toned and ardent, effortlessly brilliant at the top of the voice, when needed, but also magically soft from the tenderest exclamation of “Marie-Theres’!” in the breakfast scene right to the final pianissimo. She seemed to be enjoying every minute, too, and kept her femininity with two floaty wraps over a black trouser suit.

Nelsons might have opened up the cuts in concert, but that would have meant experienced singers learning more music, and we did get more of Ochs’s Falstaffian soliloquy before the waltz than at Glyndebourne. But finally we were there at the last hurdle. “It is at the end that a composer can achieve his finest effects”, wrote Strauss of the path to the great Trio and beyond; and Nelsons did that too, with an infinitely velvety cushion of sound for three great voices. Did I shed tears? I had trouble keeping the sobs from bursting into song. The ovation was mostly standing and absolutely ecstatic. That’s the magic of Rosenkavalier, and it doesn’t come more supernaturally bittersweet than this.”

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Review by Andrew H King, BachTrack:

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“The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and their Boston-bound conductor Andris Nelsons have a happy history of presenting opera in concert performance, and Sunday’s Der Rosenkavalier was nothing short of superb. Glorious singing and informed characterisations infused with wickedly witty humour and passionate sensitivity, made for one of the most entertaining Strauss performances I have seen.

Soile Isokoski © Intermusica

Soile Isokoski
© Intermusica

 

Beneath the sumptuous orchestral scoring and masterly vocal writing, Der Rosenkavalier is easily Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s most enduring comic masterpiece. Effectively a comedy of manners awash with genuine romantic sentiment, the plot hangs on the problematic relationships surrounding the four principal characters ranging from the neurotic, aristocratic and adulterous Marschallin, to her cousin, the self-important and obnoxious Baron Ochs, her teenage lover, the boisterous and fickle Octavian, and the pure, sensitive Sophie.

As Hofmannsthal’s poised but melancholy Marschallin, whose misplaced romantic fantasies are untidily hidden behind the bed – it’s all well and good giving her glorious tune to sing, but when it’s time to face the music she is engaging in an emotional relationship with a teenage boy about a third of her age – Finnish superstar Soile Isokoski was the image of respect commanding regal deportment. Always elegant in her Marschallin’s anxiety, annoyance or happiness, Isokoski sang with a clear, focused tone that ultimately failed to secure her Octavian, but won over every man and woman in the concert hall instead. In action, Isokoski was extremely economical and all unnecessary pacing about was eliminated, while useful visual gestures were restrained to the point of being nothing less or more than noble.

The 17-year old Count Octavian was magnificently portrayed by Alice Coote. A gifted actress, Coote filled the hall with full blooded, boisterous comedy and perfect diction as well as remarkable sensitivity. Her familiar rich, warm tone and sheer vocal force displayed some of her best singing across the board from hilarious caricature in her ‘Mariandel’, to poignant sensitivity in duets with the Marschallin or Sophie, and amusing confrontational scenes with the Baron. Sophie Bevan’s young, inexperienced but soon to be enlightened Sophie von Faninal was restricted to a purely ‘vocal performance’ in that she was working from the copy which, even in a concert performance could have achieved more dramatically, but the singing was excellent and Bevan, who gets the highest role of the opera, was phenomenally clear in passages of extended quick-fire diction or soaring melody – I would love to see her act the part on stage.”      …

*****

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Andris Nelsons, as adept in the opera-house as on the concert-platform, drew from his devoted players an account of eloquence and flexibility which did full justice to all the colours and phrasing of Strauss’ miraculous score. Concertmaster Laurence Jackson deserves huge credit, not only for his solo contributions, but also for his marshalling of this huge orchestra; from chamber-music (with the Maggini Quartet) to one of the most febrile scores in opera, Jackson has made a huge journey, and has triumphed every step of the way.

The contributions from Simon Halsey’s CBSO Chorus and Julian Wilkins’ CBSO Youth Chorus were vibrant and effective (the kids especially charming as they bustled around), but best of all was the wonderful team of soloists, from the motley crew of waiters and supernumeraries right up to the stellar principals.

And heading these was Soile Isokoski as the Marschallin, heartbreakingly dignified as she renounced her young lover Octavian to a girl much younger than herself. Isokoski phrased so creamily, and Alice Coote, her Octavian, employed such brilliant body-language as she moved from breeches-part to servant-girl, and back to bearer of the silver rose.”     …

*****

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Blog post by JV, WritingWillChangeYourLife:

Click here for full post

…     “Anyway, musically, it was a superb version. Orchestrally was beyond reproach, with a hall with a great, clean but also a bit resonant, acoustic. [sic] Nelsons did a version quite standard in the choice of tempi, that sounded just right.
Soile Isokoski was the Marschallin, a role who has sang many times [sic](has she recorded it? I’m not aware). Maybe she is a bit old for the role now. Her voice is not a particularly sensuous one, not either a big one (which was a bit of a problem next to the very big voiced Alice Coote, the Octavian). Having said that, she was amazing. Utterly amazing. Rosenkavalier, for me, is a great opera because of its sublimity. [sic] She provided the sublime element. Is there many characters more fully rounded in the history of opera? I cannot think of many, and all the others are from German language operas.
All the other singers were great. I loved Alice Coote, who was fully convincing both vocally and as an actress. Sophie Bevan was a Sophie acted with the score carried around, who stressed in the way she concieved the charcter the awkwardness and childishness in it. There are other ways to do it, but hers was perfectly convicing. [sic]Franz Hawlata was a good actor who improvised, moved around and gave us a fully convincing, even likeable, Ochs, with a voice that without being very big had a nice, rounded sound. Even the Italian tenor, Ji-Min Park, someone I never heard before, was perfect for the role.”     …   [all sic]

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…      “A special cause for admiration was the quality among the lesser members of the cast. As Faninal’s major-domo the young tenor, Ted Schmitz made a tangibly beautiful, strikingly focused sound. Four likely lads – Nicholas Ashby, Paul Curievici, Edward Harrisson and Joseph Kennedy – made a glorious ensemble job of footmen and general factota – Strauss gives them plenty to do. To have singers of the quality of Bonaventura Bottone and Pamela Helen Stephen – who is a character actress to be reckoned with, just as Bottone proffers glorious tenor coloratura – as the intriguing duo provided riches indeed.

Soprano Elaine McKrill made a nice, bossy job of Sophie’s Duenna/chaperone. That was no surprise: she has sung Isolde and Brünnhilde with some of the top conductors in Europe, and was part of both Simon Rattle’s Berlin Philharmonic and Antonio Pappano’s Royal Opera Ring cast.

Simon Halsey’s richly prepared CBSO Chorus had less to do than usual, but came up with all the goods – vital and attentive – as they invariably do; and the CBSO Youth Chorus had fun scaring Hawlata’s creepy Ochs witless with their sneery ‘yahs’ and ‘tee-hee’s’. Indeed, the orchestral flair and rhythmic finesse Nelsons drew forth in the ‘witching scene’ was one of the most perfectly devised moments of the evening. It all made for rich comedy alongside the exquisite beauty and poignancy of the main story.

Of course, it was the great final trio of Act 3 we were all waiting for, and as with everything else about this reading, Nelsons – who can occasionally overegg the pudding – did not disappoint. Resting mostly on a chair to conduct, with oddly relaxing consequences that benefited all, he conjured up timings that seemed perfect, time and again; he made wise decisions about when to ground the baton altogether and focus on his expressive left hand; and his balances were such that sections of orchestra never vied with each other to the detriment of the opera’s glorious dénouement. That was in the hands of, first, Soile Isokoski, perhaps an unlikely teen-tickler but utterly lovely in her expression of the conclusion’s honourable resignation: the epitome of noblesse oblige, by which the Marschallin yields up Octavian to Sophie and youth at last has its way.”     …

 

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Review by Anna Picard, Times: £££

Click here for full review

 

 

 

Mendelssohn in Birmingham: Hymn of Praise

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Thursday 13th February 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor

Sophie Bevan  soprano

Mary Bevan  soprano

Benjamin Hulett  tenor

CBSO Chorus  

CBSO Youth Chorus  

Mendelssohn: Overture, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage 13′

Mendelssohn: Two Motets, Op. 39 12′

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 2 (Hymn of Praise) 65′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Felix Mendelssohn was   one of the greatest natural talents in the history of music. So when he challenged   Beethoven at his own game… well hear for yourself! Hymn of Praise is   Mendelssohn’s very own Choral Symphony. Birmingham audiences of 1840 adored   it – and you will too, as Edward Gardner, the massed CBSO choruses and three   first-rate soloists bring our Mendelssohn cycle to Symphony Hall. Two delightful   rediscoveries complete a really joyous evening of music.

We are sorry to announce that Robert Murray has had to withdraw from this  concert due to ill health. We are very grateful to Benjamin Hulett for taking   his place at short notice. Read about Benjamin here.

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Der Rosenkavalier, Saturday   24th May

Strauss and Shakespeare, Wednesday   18th June

Mozart’s C minor Mass, Thursday   26th June

www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “The CBSO chorus’s considerable numbers risked being a little too resonant, but the sound was glorious; their contrapuntal lines were cleanly articulated, and they coped well with Gardner’s lively tempi. Seamlessly moving from one number into the next also helped things flow as never before. Tenor Benjamin Hulett and sopranos Sophie and Mary Bevan all projected the English words with intelligent, expressively shaped phrasing, and, in Gardner’s authoritative hands, new life was breathed into a work that suddenly seemed wrongly neglected.

By way of preface, Gardner had brought a similar airiness to Mendelssohn’s overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, its opening stillness wonderfully controlled. The fresh, bright girls’ voices of the CBSO Youth Chorus sang his Two Motets, Op 39, with elan and two solo sopranos emerging in the Tulerunt Dominum to show great promise. An uplifting evening.”

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…    “There are extraordinary things in the three-movement instrumental opening to the symphony: so interesting one might almost think, had the work remained unfinished, it might still have merited attention like Schubert’s 8th, and still had its distinctive Lutheran hue. Gardner kept it all measured; bits that might have run away higgledy-piggledy never did so. The Allegretto ‘un poco agitato’, an all but Tchaikovskian waltz, should sound wonderful on disc; it did here, rendered all the more impressive in that Gardner periodically ceased to beat at all, teasingly letting his players play. The ensuing adagio was all the more impressive for managing to infiltrate the CBSO’s sensitive contrabassoon player, Margaret Cookhorn, into it without scarcely being heard at all.

Congenial though two significant solos from soprano Sophie Bevan were, I found her timbre in the finale edgy, perhaps not her best, compared with her finer-honed sister Mary Bevan (who sang the lower line of the duet ‘I waited for the Lord’, where they matched each other to perfection, with fine horn obbligato). The most satisfying soloist – standing in for the originally designated Robert Murray – was tenor Benjamin Hulett, always endowed with a particularly beautiful sound, but now with a meaningful dramatic edge honed by four years with the Hamburg Opera. Hulett’s virtual dramatic scena, ‘The sorrows of death’, was in its way a triumph; but then so was his nobly delivered preceding recitative; and his start, with Gardner, to ‘My song shall always’ – perilous at the best of times – was a case of perfect mutual osmosis.

The CBSO chorus vociferously witnessed the night departing (surely a Victorian and Edwardian hit chorus, even though the – then – City of Birmingham Orchestra perplexingly never assayed it in full till the Second World War); but the choral plum was the late extended hymn Nun Danket (here ‘Let all men praise the Lord’), sung a cappella with pleasing finesse and a wonderful feel for dynamics instilled by a batonless Gardner – an assured choral director not least. Additional credit to Julian Wilkins’s CBSO Youth Chorus, who with their trainer at the organ served up two rare Mendelssohn Latin motets, in which their part singing was confident, their distinctive sound at the start and end firm and nicely forthright, and whose soloists – one semichoral quartet, and – above all a-  tantalising duet in ‘Tulerunt Dominum’, effortlessly filling the huge hall, were all but fabulous.”

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…     “Whatever else, Edward Gardner’s was a reading that admitted of little false opulence and absolutely no sentimentality. Although comparisons with Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony were made right at the outset, Mendelssohn’s designation of his work as a ‘symphony-cantata’ leaves little doubt as to his intentions. The first three movements have an essentially introductory purpose – the initial bars setting out the imposing trombone theme which returns across the work and provides a ‘motto’ for all that is to come, followed by an Allegro where Gardner was particularly felicitous during the transition from the hectic development to the easeful re-emergence of the second theme. In the Allegretto, typically Mendelssohn in its synthesis of scherzo and intermezzo, he rightly brought out the shifting unease implied by its ‘un poco agitato’ qualification – and with the Adagio a song-without-words whose ‘religioso’ marking was never an excuse for indulgence. The arrival of the choral ‘finale’ was the more arresting through Gardner’s refusal to overdo the rhetoric in one of the composer’s most striking transitions.

The main problem henceforth is to prevent the vocal numbers from seeming arbitrary in their follow-through. That this did not happen here was owing to the swift though not inflexible tempos Gardner favoured, as well as a subtly changing expressive emphasis so that constituent sections cohered into a balanced and cumulative whole. He was aided by mellifluous singing from Sophie Bevan – her limpid tone complemented by the darker timbre of Mary Bevan in their poignant duet and an eloquent showing from Benjamin Hulett (replacing Robert Murray at short notice) in the ‘Watchman’ aria that was one of Mendelssohn’s inspired additions in 1841. The CBSO Chorus was assuredly not lacking impact in the energetic settings, while the chorale “Let all men praise the Lord” avoided stolidity through its unforced pacing and luminous accompaniment. Redolent of Handel while anticipating Brahms, the final fugue was vividly rendered – with the climactic return of the initial theme making for a decisive apotheosis. Whether or not a masterpiece, Hymn of Praise remains a work to reckon with.”     …

Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

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Saturday 12 October 2013 at 7.30pm

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

Ex Cathedra

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Jeffrey Skidmore  conductor

Sophie Bevan  soprano

Jennifer Johnston  mezzo

Andrew Tortise  tenor

Roderick Williams  bass

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis 81′

Beethoven laboured for nearly four years to complete his Missa Solemnis,   and nothing he composed surpasses it for scale, sincerity or sheer vision. No   single performance can capture every aspect of this work, but under Jeffrey   Skidmore, Ex Cathedra and a team of first-rate soloists will surely come closer   than most to realising Beethoven’s wish that this music should come ‘from the   heart, that it may go to the heart’.

www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Jeffrey Skidmore and his Ex Cathedra (fully expanded) were joined by the CBSO in a fluent, natural account in which the composer’s cruel demands both on singers and players were so expertly assimilated into Beethoven’s confrontation with God. Beethoven takes no prisoners (all the sounds were trapped in his head by this time of his life), and Skidmore and company responded unflinchingly and devotedly.

There were two special things in this performance: Skidmore’s thoughtful and appreciative programme-notes which set the context, and the welcome prominence given to the organ (the excellent Alexander Mason), an element which is so often reduced to virtual nothingness, almost as an embarrassment; it is not, and Beethoven notated its part assiduously.

As we always confidently expect from the Ex Cathedra, the chorus was well-shaped and attentive.”     …