Marina Medvetskaya’s Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet

Present Swan Lake

Saturday 7th January 2017

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Swan Lake is the story of the Prince and the Swan Princess, a tragic tale of love that triumphs over evil, set to Tchaikovsky’s sublime, soaring dramatic score performed by a live orchestra.

Following a triumphant premier UK tour earlier this year, Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet makes its debut here at Symphony Hall. Under the direction of Marina Medvetskaya, SPCB has won plaudits across Russia, Scandinavia and the USA.

Demonstrating the superb technique and artistic heritage from the cradle of Russian ballet – the City of St. Petersburg – and presenting the best-loved Russian ballet titles, Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet’s performances have an air of magic, along with outstanding young soloists who will take your breath away!

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Interview with Natalia Romanova, by Andy Coleman, WeekendNotes:

Click here for full interview

“Principal dancer Natalia Romanova, who joined the company in 1998, talks about her career and how the dancers prepare for a big production.

Natalia Romanova, Marina Medvetskaya's Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake,

Why did you decide to become a professional ballerina?

I have wanted to be a dancer ever since I can remember. Dance, particularly ballet, is a huge part of our culture, dating back to the 17th century, so we all learn about it in school and it’s a big part of our lives.

Natalia Romanova, Marina Medvetskaya's Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake,      ” …

 

Welcoming Mirga

Welcoming Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

Friday 26th August, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Mozart The Magic Flute: Overture, 7′
  • Abrahamsen let me tell you, 30′
  • Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, 44′
A new era in Birmingham music – and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla opens her first concert as Osborn Music Director with the overture to Mozart’s joyous fable of hope and renewal. Tchaikovsky’s passionate autobiography of a Fourth Symphony and a set of magical, Shakespeare-inspired songs performed by one of the world’s most adventurous living sopranos complete Birmingham’s most eagerly anticipated concert of 2016.
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Encore – Tchaikovsky – Sleeping Beauty, final variation and coda. 

Sponsored by

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The sense of occasion was almost palpable. Even Mozart’s Magic Flute overture fizzed and sparkled with a clarity and subtlety we rarely hear in such a well-worn opener. And at the end of the programme Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 transcended its fanfare opening to develop into something of a musical quest, lovingly and elegantly sculptured by this remarkable young conductor (strings wonderfully effulgent, woodwind singing with nostalgia), which, after characterful middle movements, concluded in a glorious peroration of life-affirming joy. 

An even more impressive vehicle for Gražinytė-Tyla’s musicianship and technique was Hans Abrahamsen’s Shakespeare-inspired 30-minute vocal monologue ‘let me tell you’ for soprano (the stunningly brilliant Barbara Hannigan, who has made the work her own). […]

[…]     So – has the CBSO at last found a worthy successor to Andris Nelsons? You bet they have. In just one evening we witnessed exactly what the Mirga magic can do. And this is just the start. “

*****

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “The drama that had been latent in the performance of the overture erupted in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony in the second half of the concert. Technically, it was impeccable – it may be a standard repertory piece, which the CBSO has played under Nelsons and his predecessor Sakari Oramo, but this was just that bit more vivid than usual, more generously characterised in every detail. Gražinytė-Tyla seems to have that precious conductor’s knack of allowing players all the expressive freedom they want, while still being able to shape every aspect of a performance in exactly the way she wants.

The bewitching centrepiece of the evening was a repeat performance of one of the most remarkable works the CBSO has introduced in many years. In 2014, Nelsons conducted the UK premiere of Let Me Tell You, Hans Abrahamsen’s spellbinding song cycle, with a text by Paul Griffiths, taken from his novel of the same name, itself woven around the character and words of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.”     …

*****

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “As for Barbara Hannigan’s singing, it was quite astonishing. Abrahamsen makes demands on his soloist that are almost unreasonable at times – though Miss Hannigan was closely involved in the composition process, I understand. Every challenge, not least those which involved the extreme registers of her voice, was met with compete assurance. There are many things that I admire about this work but one of them is the nature of the writing for the voice. Abrahamsen requires his soloist to deploy quite a number of vocal effects during the piece. However, unlike many contemporary composers, at no time does he expect his soloist to do anything other than sing. In other words, there’s nothing outlandish or ugly in the vocal writing.

Barbara Hannigan displayed extraordinary control and technical accomplishment during this performance. Furthermore, this was a performance that engaged totally both with the music and with the audience. Part II is the section of the work that uses the largest orchestral forces and there were a number of times when the accompaniment rather drowned the soloist – that’s not a criticism of the orchestra, by the way. Part III is simply spellbinding, the music slow-moving and rapt. This is music of the utmost refinement and eloquence and it received here a performance that was completely worthy of Hans Abrahamsen’s extraordinary musical imagination. The whole of let me tell you is a wonderfully imaginative creation but the invention and inspiration reaches a peak in Part III. It was a tribute to the quality of both the music and the performance that the audience was clearly absorbed in the performance. Both Hans Abrahamsen and Paul Griffiths were present and they, as well as the performers, were most warmly applauded. let me tell you is an extraordinary score and I was thrilled to experience it live. My only hope is that now that Barbara Hannigan has so successfully launched the work other sopranos will take it up so that it establishes the secure pace in the repertoire that it deserves.    […]

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The finale, taken attacca, was as fast and brilliant as I’d expected. But to describe the performance simply in those terms would be grossly unfair for amid the festivities there was further evidence of this conductor’s attention to detail. One example occurred within the first couple of minutes where the woodwind have a succession of chords, each marked with a crescendo. Each and every one of these crescendi was individually cared for by Miss Gražinytė-Tyla. It sounds like a small point but it isn’t; these chords can go for nothing – or very little – in the excitement of performance but here they made their mark yet without any feeling of exaggeration. The performance as a whole was thrilling and when the ‘Fate’ motif returned the theme blazed out from the CBSO’s brass section – which was on collectively fine form throughout the evening. The ending was exhilarating as Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla whipped the orchestra to an electrifying conclusion.

Predictably this superb performance was greeted by a huge ovation and after several minutes of highly enthusiastic applause Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla emerged once more onto the stage but instead of coming back to the podium she climbed the risers at the back of the stage, picked up the music stand in front of one of the CBSO’s percussionists and led him, triangle in hand, to a much more prominent position on the platform from where he proceeded to play a key role in the short, witty encore which I couldn’t initially identify but now understand – thanks to the comment sent in below – was from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.

I have to report that Miss Gražinytė-Tyla then faced a first-night mutiny. The orchestra resolutely refused her requests to stand, insisting instead that she should take a bow by herself. This gesture suggested that the orchestra has already formed a strong relationship with their new music director but, frankly, that was evident throughout the evening in performances of commitment, skill and freshness. The orchestra repeats this programme at the Proms on Saturday 27 August. It will be broadcast live on Radio 3 and recorded for television transmission in early September so a much wider audience will get an early chance to experience this new musical partnership in action.

So, the Mirga Era has been well and truly launched in Birmingham. Buckle up: I think we’re in for an exciting ride.”

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Reviews for BBC Prom 55 27th August, 2016- same programme as at Symphony Hall:-

Review by Mark Pullinger, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “And what a landscape Abrahamsen paints, clusters of microtones over the soft tread of xylophone ostinatos, silvery piccolo shards of glass and spectral high violins. Glockenspiel, celesta and harp daub their icy tintinnabulations, while paper is grazed over the skin of the bass drum. Even if Hannigan’s words did not always carry across the Royal Albert Hall’s difficult acoustic, under Gražinytė-Tyla’s hypnotic beat, the music entranced.

The interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4 in F minor was full of thought and incident. The fateful opening fanfares were crisply delivered – with meticulous care over dynamics – and the development section was lovingly caressed, although momentum sagged once or twice. Gražinytė-Tyla’s energetic conducting clearly signals what she wants, from the flick of the wrist to a left-hand ‘claw’, a hip wiggle to a slowly raised hand giving the lower brass free rein. She wields a baton with dramatic flair, but in the pizzicato Scherzo she led with an inviting hand and a graceful smile. A couple of pregnant pauses displayed bags of personality and only the symphony’s coda, the percussion leading off a tad too fast, threatened to derail her, but a quick recovery led to a triumphant finale.

Clambering to the back of the platform to retrieve a percussionist’s music stand, Gražinytė-Tyla brought it – and him – to just behind the second violins, his triangle launching the Diamond Fairy’s sparkling variation and coda from the final act of The Sleeping Beauty. “See you in Birmingham!” she piped while its final note still resounded. No doubt about that.”

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Review by Doundou Tchil, ClassicalIconoclast:

Click here for full review

“Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra  in a truly sensational Prom 55 at the Royal Albert Hall, an occasion which those of us lucky enough to have been there will not forget. The CBSO is unique. Its members have an uncanny knack for picking relatively unknown conductors and growing with them.  They picked Simon Rattle as Music Director when he was 25, Sakari Oramo at 31, Andris Nelsons at age 30, and now Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, also 30.  This symbiotic relationship between orchestra and conductors makes the CBSO what it is: a very different dynamic from the usual way orchestras are run.  In each case the orchestra shaped the conductor as much as the conductor shaped the orchestra.  This close relationship – like family, some say – is fundamental to understanding the orchestra and, indeed, its conductors, who carry the CBSO imprint with them just as much as the orchestra developed duringn their stewardship. The CBSO is easily one of the Big Five in British music, and absolutely world class.  Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla has a lot to live up to, but from this Prom, it’s clear that she has what it takes.     […]

[…]     The Overture to Mozart’s The Magic Flute sparkled: clean, shining brass, vivacious winds, strings whizzing along with manic brio. So expressive that the spirit of the opera – and its composer – seemed to materialize. Magical, yes, but also with diabolic fervour.  In the opera, Tamino is tested. Sarastro  is no cuddly father figure.  Thus the discipline in the CBSO’s playing underlined the moral resolve that lies at the heart of the Singspiele, which is by no means a pretty bit of fluff.  Being a Freemason in Mozart’s time was secretive and rather sinister. Gražinytė-Tyla’s background lies in vocal music. Like Nelsons, she could achieve great things if she did opera.  To my delight, she announced plans on the radio rebroadcast for a concert performance of Mozart Idomeneo in a future CBSO season.”      …

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Review by Robert Matthew-Walker, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…      “The singing of Barbara Hannigan (mostly from memory) was exceptionally compelling, and the playing maintained the high standards of the Mozart – but Hannigan, for some extraordinary reason, performed at times to one side of the auditorium rather than centre-stage and tended to project to her left, which obliged half of those in the Hall (on her right, where I sat) to try to catch what she was singing and having to make do by seeing her almost constantly turning away.

(L-R) Paul Griffiths, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Hans Abrahamsen, Barbara Hannigan and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms 2016. Photograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouBut overall, the influence of Stockhausen came across as being the foundation of Abrahamsen’s score, certainly in the first of its three movements wherein a monotony of tonality (pace Griffiths) is subjected to a few textural variations over too great a length of time (half the work’s 35-minute duration), so that one’s interest is in serious danger of being lost; in addition, the composer’s word-setting tends to inhabit too narrow an expressive range in depicting a teenager contemplating – and achieving – suicide. The performance though was magnificent, and must have thrilled the composer, taking his bow along with Griffiths.”     …

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Review by Richard Morrison, The Times (££)

Click here for full review (££)

“It’s too early to say what personality lies behind the incredibly graceful conducting technique of Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, the new music director at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO). Thirty this year, the Lithuanian clearly has bags of musicality. That was evident within 30 seconds of her starting her Proms (and indeed London) debut, with Mozart’s Magic Flute overture.

The chording was pungently accented; the string phrases lushly nuanced. Like many of today’s young conductors she seems to be (in Boris Johnson’s phrase) “pro cake and pro eating it” when it comes to 18th-century music: timbres and textures that mimic period instruments, but dynamics that would have had Wilhelm Furtwängler nodding approval.”     …

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Review by Amanda Holloway, Critics’ Circle:

Click here for full review

“After a bouncy little encore from The Sleeping Beauty, conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla stepped forward and shouted to the audience: “See you in Birmingham!”

Symphony Hall should be full this season on the strength of this, her second concert as music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and first Proms appearance. The buzz that surrounded the London debut of the slight, determined 30-year-old Lithuanian conductor was fully justified: her effect on the orchestra is electrifying, very differently from that of her predecessor, the more laid-back Andris Nelsons. She has firm ideas of what she wants – pace and definition – and the orchestra eagerly complies. From the opening bars of the overture to The Magic Flute the energy flew from her baton like a rapier and the orchestra replied with punchy chords fresh from the page. She leaned in to the cellos, urged on the trumpets and, having whipped the orchestra into a frenzy, stopped them dead in their tracks to produce shocking silences.”     …

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Review by Alan Sanders, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Hannigan is an extraordinary artist. She is rightly described as a “singing actress”, since her repertoire, much of it contemporary, often calls for more than just singing, and she certainly has a most compelling stage presence. Not only does she have a most beautiful voice, but that voice is a most outstandingly agile instrument, for it has a huge range of notes from very high low, and is capable, with great varieties of tone colour, of making sure footed leaps across the most demanding and awkward intervals. Hannigan feels that her Ophelia “role” should be committed to memory, and that she has done. To have absorbed such a rhythmically anchorless and tonally fractured vocal part lasting half an hour, with little respite, is an amazing feat in itself.

To complement this display the orchestra contributes an accompaniment that is for the most part curiously pretty – a strange word to use, maybe, but one that seems appropriate. There’s nothing in the piquant scoring that would seem very foreign to, say, the later Frank Bridge or John Foulds, except that the bounds of tonality are broken more that they would break it. The work’s main drawback, maybe, is that most the music is slow moving, and greater variations of tempo would have enhanced the drama of the text. Both Paul Griffiths and Hans Abrahamsen were in attendance to acknowledge generous audience applause.

The appointment of Mirga Gražinyté-Tyla as the CBSO’s new Music Director has generated a good deal of advance publicity, for here is a 29-year-old young woman, previously unknown to the British public, filling the role previously occupied over the last three decades by Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo and Andris Nelsons. She had made her debut in her new appointment the previous evening in Birmingham (review), and now she presented the same concert for her London debut.”     …

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Review by John Allison, Telegraph:

Click here for full review (scroll down “Prom 55”)

…     “The toughest test here was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, a well-known warhorse full of pitfalls when it comes to pacing. It was no mean achievement that Gražinytė-Tyla, conducting from memory, shaped such a fresh-sounding performance. The opening fanfares poured out generously and the full orchestral punches were sharply etched before this conductor got down to the business of a naturally flowing performance. The symphonic argument in her unhurried first movement was keenly detailed, and the succeeding movements had lyrical warmth and crisp articulation. A compelling force on the podium, Gražinytė-Tyla clearly signals exciting times ahead for the CBSO.”

*****

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Review by Alexandra Coghlan, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “The Tchaikovsky, similarly, had a zest and invention to it that demanded attention even from this most fidgety of Proms audiences. The Fate theme burnt through the hall in cruel fortissimo, musical shock and awe, before the clarinet led us to the ballroom floor for the waltz – a dance whose ghostly strings, wispy and fragile, suggested that the floor might dissolve at any minute leaving us waltzing into the abyss. Atmospheric but always mindful of structural clarity, with a beautifully organic evolving set of tempi, this was the prelude to a big, generous Andantino, the CBSO singing out with Russian heart, a witty pizzicato Scherzo and a Finale that returned us to the fire of the opening. Woodwind soloists shone, while strings found the rhetorical clarity encoded in Tchaikovsky’s phrases.”     […]

[…]     In a curious sleight of hand, the composer’s slow-moving harmonies, often circling around a clear tonic, seem to react when set against shards of musical light from tuned and untuned percussion and high woodwind, lost in woozy clouds of microtones, creating time at once static and swift-moving. If it seems far-fetched to think of these in terms of Henri Bergson’s temps and durée – the absolute clock-time of temps and the psychological flexi-time of durée – it’s an interpretation grounded in Paul Griffiths’s gloriously allusive text (shaped only from the limited words Shakespeare’s Ophelia speaks during Hamlet), which meditates persistently on precisely this: “time of now and then tumbled into one another,/ time turned and loosed,/ time bended”.

At the centre of this still sonic world is Barbara Hannigan (pictured above with Gražinytė-Tyla), the soprano whose extraordinary range and expressive capacity inspired and helped shape the work. To watch Hannigan is to see Griffiths’s Ophelia (a more emancipated, articulate creature than Shakespeare’s) come alive. The tone-colours available to her – from the white light of her denatured purity at the top of her register, to the guttural directness of the bottom – are myriad, and deployed with deft musicality and care. Together with Gražinytė-Tyla and the CBSO she wove a musical tale here all the potent because this Scheherazade, we know from the start, is already condemned to death.

London had better get used to feeling jealous, because Gražinytė-Tyla has just given us one more reason to envy Birmingham her wonderful CBSO.”

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Review by Fiona Maddocks, Observer:

Click here for full review

…     “Graceful, with an almost gymnastic energy on the podium, arms wide-stretched to embrace the full orchestra, Gražinytė-Tyla is never showy, a team player but with natural authority. Sometimes the sound balance was slightly awry, but the Albert Hall, especially compared with Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, plays acoustical tricks and from another area of the auditorium it may not have been noticeable.

Gražinytė-Tyla elicited an incendiary quality from her players, whether in the transparency and precision of Mozart and Hans Abrahamsen – his song cycle Let Me Tell You was given its London premiere by the soprano Barbara Hannigan – or in the dark grandeur of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4. Prom 55 was a “were you there?” kind of event. If you weren’t, you can watch it this evening on BBC4, then on iPlayer. It was as if yet another awkward fence in the long steeplechase of female conductors has been cleared: Gražinytė-Tyla’s CBSO predecessors include Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo and Andris Nelsons, which needs no further comment.”

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Tchaikovsky’s Fifth

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday 25th May, 2016, 7:30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Tchaikovsky  The Tempest , 21′
  • Glazunov  Violin Concerto , 20′
  • Tchaikovsky  Symphony No. 5, 48′

Something incredible happens when a Russian maestro conducts Russian music; and former Bolshoi music director Alexander Vedernikov has Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony in his blood. Expect grand passions, tender moments, and melody after wondrous melody in a concert that features a rare performance of the luscious violin concerto by the “Russian Mendelssohn” Alexander Glazunov – plus Tchaikovsky’s gloriously uninhibited take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

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Review by Clive Peacock, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The recurring main theme, which links the four movements, sometimes dubbed the ‘fate theme’, offered Oliver Jones’ the opportunity to open the movement with beautiful clarinet playing, echoed by Joshua Wilson’s delightful bassoon efforts. Both returned towards the end of the movement in the most dramatic form. This gives way to one of Tchaikovsy’s most beloved themes, a poignant and seductive horn melody led by Elspeth Dutch before a dramatic interruption from Matthew Hardy’s fierce timpani playing, something he also achieved at the beginning of the evening during Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest

During an evening of huge plusses with outstanding individual performances, the CBSO was well led by Zoe Beyers, firmly established as a very successful leader of the orchestra. With a Russian conductor, Alexander Vedernikov, very much at home with an all-Russian programme, the strong CBSO audience following was in for a treat. It is a sheer joy to listen to – and watch – the crisp pizzicato playing of the cello desks and those of the double basses.

Dance-like themes open the minor key third movement – probably his fateful theme seeking happiness. Vedernikov showed his supreme confidence in the CBSO’s capability, allowing Beyers to lead the playful runs in the strings before taking back the leadership for the furiously driven fourth movement with the many delicate shaded woodwind passages acknowledged with nods of approval by a very pleased conductor. He deliberately sought the hands of the several brass, wind and string players at the end of a superb performance.”     …

 

Romeo and Juliet

  • Wednesday 20th April, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Tchaikovsky  Romeo and Juliet Overture, 21′
  • Bernstein  West Side Story – Symphonic Dances , 23′
  • Prokofiev  Romeo and Juliet – highlights , 50′

Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…” But whether we’re talking Montagues and Capulets or Nureyev and Fonteyn, medieval Verona or New York gangland, one thing’s for sure: Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers have inspired some truly glorious music. Tchaikovsky’s impassioned overture, Bernstein’s explosive dances and Prokofiev’s bittersweet ballet: guest conductor Lahav Shani will commit to each of them, body and soul.

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Shani and the CBSO gave a vivid account of the music. As the Jets and Sharks strutted their stuff in the ‘Prologue’ the playing was at first incisive and sassy and then brash and exciting, the bongos beating out frenetic tattoos. Shani ensured that ‘Somewhere’ was suitably yearning while the Coplandesque ‘Scherzo’ was light on its feet. The percussion section drove ‘Mambo’ along in manic style and as the movement reached its exuberant conclusion the CBSO trumpeters had a field day, blowing, as they say, mean horns. The sultry rhythms of ‘Cha Cha’ were well inflected. The ‘Cool’ Fugue is a terrific invention: who but Bernstein would have thought to introduce a 12-tone, rigorous fugue into a Broadway show – and who but Lennie would have made it so gripping? This section, above all, is where you realize how musically advanced West Side Story is. Shani built the music powerfully, generating a strident climax. ‘Rumble’ is just as advanced in terms of Broadway music; here it was done with great panache. Finally, the tender, tragic ending was really well done, the CBSO strings playing with great sensitivity.

Another Russian take on Romeo and Juliet followed the interval. A couple of years ago Andris Nelsons and the CBSO played a selection of numbers from Prokofiev’s great ballet score (review). Here Lahav Shani offered a selection that contained many of the same pieces. I remember that I greatly enjoyed the Nelsons concert and Shani’s performance was another fine one. Like Nelsons, his selection included many movements that lie at the heart of the drama but both conductors sensibly interspersed two or three of the lighter dance movements.

The start of Shani’s performance – ‘Montagues and Capulets’ – augured well, the massive dissonant chords built thrillingly and, at their peak, thrust home with great power. In the same movement we had the lumbering Knights’ Dance but also passages of much greater delicacy. ‘The Young Girl Juliet’ began with scampering eagerness but when Prokofiev shows us the more thoughtful side of her nature Shani was just as adept in bringing out the nature of the music. The ‘Balcony Scene began with a lovely depiction of a moonlit night from the CBSO. At the start of the encounter between the two young lovers I admired very much the lustrous tone of the cello section, and then the violins took over and sent the music soaring to the heights. Under Shani’s enthusiastic leadership the orchestra invested the music with ardour and romantic sweep but just as impressive was the spellbinding clarity that the players brought to Prokofiev’s magical scoring at the end.

From ardent young love we moved to violence with ‘The Death of Tybalt’. This was vivid and dramatic. The fight itself was fast and furious; no quarter was given. After Tybalt had been slain his body was borne off with shattering power.”     …

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack: (for same programme on 23rd April)

Click here for full review

…     “Tchaikovsky‘s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture was his third attempt at this subject but was still one of his early works. Its substantial introduction opens with solemn woodwind foreshadowing Friar Laurence’s fateful involvement then moves into pugnacious, jagged music, the irregular accents conjuring up flashing swords and setting up the conflict with a bang. Brass and percussion, particularly cymbals, were in their element while Shani showed both great enthusiasm and control over the build-up of volume and intensity. Furious bowing from the strings added a visual reference point as you could just imagine weapons flying. The audience was well and truly hooked.

A complete change of colour occurred with the move into the luscious love theme: tempo, dynamic, articulation and melody producing a heart-stopping plaintive contrast with the clash and clamour of the previous scene.  A delicate harp spoke of moonlight shining on Juliet’s balcony. Shani urged the players to heights of tenderness, just as much as total involvement in the foreboding of eerie chords and fateful trumpets pealing out the Friar Laurence theme again as the tragedy unfolds. The funeral march coda, prefaced with menacing cello, brought the piece to a carefully-placed, emotionally-charged ending.”     …

 

The Firebird

Thursday 3rd March, 2016, 2.15pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Tchaikovsky  Hamlet , 20′
  • Saint-Saëns  Cello Concerto No. 1 , 19′
  • Berlioz  Romeo and Juliet – Love Scene , 14′
  • Stravinsky  The Firebird – Suite (1945), 29′

Leonard Elschenbroich’s encore – Lutoslawski – Sacher Variation
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A dark kingdom, a troubled prince, and a spine chilling mystery… OK, so Hamlet and The Firebird don’t exactly tell the same story! But they both unleash music of sweeping passion and dazzling colour, just as Romeo and Juliet gave Berlioz a chance to pour out his romantic soul. Nicholas Collon leads a colourful toast to Shakespeare, and partners the award-winning Leonard Elschenbroich in Saint-Saëns’ warm and witty First Cello Concerto.
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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet is not heard as often as it should be. It lacks a big, sweeping tune such as one finds in Romeo and Juliet and it’s not as wild and passionate as Francesca da Rimini but it’s still a fine piece. Collon led a very successful performance, establishing a sense of foreboding in the opening pages and then bringing out all the dramatic elements as the music unfolded. There was a lovely oboe solo (Rainer Gibbons) portraying Ophelia and, indeed, in that section the rest of the woodwind were just as fine. I was impressed with Collon’s handling of the score though perhaps just a little more ‘give’ in the piece’s lyrical passages would have been welcome. He obtained excellent, keenly responsive playing from the CBSO. In the brief coda Tchaikovsky’s tragic ending was successfully done, not least because Collon didn’t overdo the emotion; an element of patrician restraint was most appropriate.

The young German cellist, Leonard Elschenbroich joined the orchestra for the Saint-Saëns concerto. It was written in 1872 for the Belgian cellist, Auguste Tolbecque who must have liked the work for I learned from Richard Bratby’s programme note that he was still playing the concerto in public in 1910 at the age of 80. And why would he not have liked the piece? It’s relatively short – about 20 minutes in this performance – but it gives the soloist plenty of opportunities to shine both in virtuoso writing and in lyrical stretches. The three movements play without a break.

It seemed to me that Elschenbroich was very well suited to the concerto. Needless to say, he had the necessary technique to despatch the virtuoso passages with seeming ease. Moreover, the consistently burnished and lovely tone that he obtained from his 1693 Goffriller instrument meant that the many lyrical passages were a delight. Indeed, his tone compelled attention throughout the performance. I especially liked the central Menuet movement. Here the orchestral strings displayed sensitive courtliness in playing the minuet material at the start – and later their woodwind colleagues were equally felicitous. In the meantime Elschenbroich made his countermelodies sing in a most attractive way. The vivacious finale was despatched with high spirits by soloist and orchestra. This was a most enjoyable account of a thoroughly engaging work.”     …

Tchaikovsky’s Sixth

Wednesday 17 February, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture, 9′
  • Prokofiev Sinfonia concertante, 37′
  • Tchaikovsky  Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique), 45′

“Pathétique” means “full of emotion”: simple as that. And from first bar to last, Tchaikovsky’s epic Sixth Symphony brims with anguish, longing and unforgettable Tchaikovsky tunes. The charismatic young Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare won’t stint on the passion; nor will his wife Alisa Weilerstein – soloist in Prokofiev’s huge, brooding “symphony concerto”. Hector Berlioz lights the fuse amidst a riot of Italian sunshine.

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…    “From the opening notes it was clear we were in for a warm, emotional time of it. By the end of the first movement, with interventions from different quarters of the orchestra but basically an improvisation for the cellist, you could sense that Weilerstein held the audience in the palm of her hand. The middle movement also held the gems of a heart-rendingly lyrical melody and a captivating extended cadenza, as well as some noteworthy wind highlights. 

Theme and variations was the order of the day for the final movement, with a relentless sensation of impetus throughout.  The cello played the stately main theme, contrasting with a more light hearted cadenza. This in turn led to a little comic relief courtesy of bassoon then cameo for soloist and a sextet of solo strings, which they all clearly enjoyed. Countless high arpeggios on the cello concluded this passionate interpretation and the audience responded equally warmly. 

If Prokofiev hadn’t long to live after Sinfonia Concertante was finished, Tchaikovsky’s death came even harder on the heels of his Symphony no. 6 in B minor, “Pathétique”. He famously commented on being pleased with this symphony: “I give you my word of honour that never in my life have I been so contented, so proud, so happy in the knowledge that I have written a good piece”, but he died just over a week after its première, rumoured to be suicide although never proven.

Unusual in its mood, since minor key symphonies in the 19th century were generally darkness-to-light journeys, this remains dark, reflected in the “Pathétique” label which conveys deep feeling and suffering. By the end of the finale, the music fades away into the darkness from which it emerged in the first place. A sense of struggle is highlighted by dynamic extremes and it’s full of powerful emotion. But there are plenty of beautiful lyrical melodies, as well as opportunities to showcase the various orchestral forces, with the balance well-handled by Payane – the violas were under the spotlight for a couple of passages, and rightly basked in their applause afterwards. The whole indulgent performance got an enthusiastic reception from the packed Symphony Hall audience.”

 

 

Baiba Skride: Tchaikovsky

Wednesday 16th December, 7.30pm

 

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Rimsky-Korsakov The Snow Maiden – Suite, 12′
  • Tchaikovsky  Violin Concerto, 34′
  • Sibelius  Symphony No. 1 , 38′

Baiba Skride’s encore – Erwin Schuloff –

Our artist in residence Baiba Skride has been compared to the legendary violinists of the past, and critics reach for words like “transcendent”, “mesmerising” and “unparalleled” to describe her playing. But here in Birmingham, we’ve long since taken this schoolfriend of Andris Nelsons to our hearts. In partnership with Andrew Litton, her performance of Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Violin Concerto will make a gloriously sunny upbeat to Sibelius’s powerful First Symphony.

CBSO+ 6.15pm 15-16 Artist in Residence Baiba Skride talks to CBSO Chief Executive Stephen Maddock.

 

Be Uplifted this Christmas!