Mahler’s Tenth

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 31st March, 2016 – 7:30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Webern Six Pieces Op. 6 (chamber version)
    Brahms Four Songs for Women’s Voices,
    Op. 17
    Mahler Symphony No. 10
    (completed by Deryck Cooke)

Mahler never quite finished his Tenth Symphony, but when musicologist Deryck Cooke finally pieced together the sketches, he uncovered a lost masterpiece – in which cries of love and cries of pain finally resolve in music of shattering honesty and piercing beauty. Nicholas Collon uncovers its secrets tonight, and sets it alongside miniatures from Brahms and Webern – each one a tiny, concentrated world of poetry and emotion.

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Available on iPlayer BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert here until 30th April 2016

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “And so to the Mahler, a work which perhaps would never have been written had the dying composer not realised his wife was having an affair with the next creative artist in her collection. It is maudlin, self-repeating from previous works, but also has a visionary quality which begs the listener’s forgiveness.

Collon allowed the music to make all its own points, as Mahler would have intended. He drew a wondrously rich string tone, summoned the brass to awesomely terrifying outbursts, and presided over a myriad of vital instrumental solos.

Chief among these must come the many contributions of concertmaster Zoe Beyers, and, too, the lengthy flute solo in the finale from Marie-Christine Zupancic. We have heard all such things earlier in Mahler’s authentic symphonic output, but this does not detract from how valid they sounded within this context.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “There was a real authority about the CBSO’s playing under Collon, the sense of an orchestra continuing to explore a work it knows inside out. Beyond the English Midlands, Cooke’s score may not have quite secured the place in the canon it deserves. No other completion of the 10th I’ve heard seems anything like as convincing, so true to the world of late Mahler as what Cooke, with the assistance of Berthold Goldschmidt and Colin and David Matthews, produced. This performance was a reminder of how important a musical document it is.

Occasionally, the account was perhaps a little glib. Both scherzos have more menace in them than Collon suggested, and parts of the huge first movement seemed doggedly persistent rather than genuinely aspirational. But from its crepuscular opening onwards he caught the mood of the finale perfectly, right through to the radiance of the coda, when the strings return to the untroubled world of the Fifth Symphony’s adagietto.”

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “In the first scherzo Mahler constantly changes the time signature, giving the music a very unstable feel. Here the playing of the CBSO was incisive and displayed no little brilliance.  Collon handled the Ländler-like trio very well, using rubato very skilfully so that the music sounded very idiomatic. When the scherzo material reappeared he drove the movement to an exciting conclusion.

The short third movement, entitled ‘Purgatorio’ is a strange piece of writing. As I listened to the performance it seemed to me that the music offers echoes of the Seventh Symphony. Collon showed a fine feeling for Mahlerian style and he brought out the colours in the orchestration very vividly.

He took the second scherzo attacca. (In effect, since the finale also follows without a break, this meant that we heard the three movements that constitute Part II of the symphony as an unbroken span.) In some ways this fourth movement sounds to me the most Mahlerian of all – I’m thinking especially of the middle three symphonies and the Ninth. Here passages that require – and were given – real bite alternate with warm, sentimental music. The mood and colours of the music seems to be constantly changing – the former the responsibility of Mahler, the latter the product of Mahler’s invention as realised by Cooke’s orchestration. The CBSO played the movement with great virtuosity. The hushed coda, dominated by the percussion, was spookily effective.

If the end of the fourth movement was spooky then the beginning of the long finale was positively eerie; the dull bass drum thuds and doleful tuba distilled an atmosphere as baleful as even the start of the finale of the Sixth. And then, out of the darkness emerged the wonderfully tender flute melody, cushioned by soft violas and cellos. As voiced by the CBSO’s principal, Marie-Christine Zupancic, the melody was fragile yet soothing. Had Mahler’s sketches been left to gather dust we should have been deprived of this, arguably his most heart-stopping melody; what a loss that would have been. The consoling melody was then taken up and developed most beautifully by the violins. The paragraphs that followed were shaped with intensity and understanding by Collon and the CBSO responded to his leadership with wonderfully glowing playing.  Later, in the faster episodes there was urgency and bite from the orchestra but it’s for the heart-easing lyrical passages that I will long remember this performance.  The last few minutes of the movement seem suffused by acceptance and, perhaps, by a recollection of temps perdu. Collon conducted these closing pages with fine yet controlled intensity and was rewarded with luminous playing, especially from the strings and golden-toned horns. One last anguished outcry and then the symphony ends in tranquillity.

As I said earlier, many distinguished Mahler conductors have resisted performing this performing version by Deryck Cooke – or, indeed, the various versions by other hands. With all due deference, I have to say I think they are wrong. Cooke never made any pretence that what he had done was to “complete” Mahler’s score. Using highly informed conjecture and great musicianship he and his colleagues gave us a way – not the way – to hear the music that Mahler had composed. If we ignore the Tenth we surely have an incomplete picture of Mahler in his last years. If we embrace it, however, we expand and enrich our understanding of one of the twentieth century’s most important and influential symphonists. This evening’s very fine performance demonstrated very clearly how rewarding an experience Mahler’s Tenth can be.

I left Symphony Hall full of admiration for the performance by Nicholas Collon and the CBSO. But above all I left full of gratitude to Deryck Cooke and his three collaborators. Through their dedicated work our Mahler horizon was expanded significantly.”

 

 

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Schubert’s Great

 

 

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Saturday 17th January 2015 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

David Afkham  conductor
Brett Polegato  baritone

Webern: Passacaglia, Op.1 11′
Mahler: Songs of a Wayfarer 14′
Schubert: Symphony No. 9 (The Great) 57′
Listen on Spotify

There’s nothing in all music to compare with Schubert’s monumental Ninth Symphony. Some hear it as a challenge to Beethoven, others hear it as a summer journey through a sunlit world of melody. Either way, it’s a wonderful Birmingham debut for the charismatic young German conductor David Afkham, and a magical complement to Mahler’s ever-fresh Songs of a Wayfarerwww.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Sam Chapman, ThePublicReviews:

Click here for full review

…     “However, on this occasion, Anton Webern’s Passacaglia, Op.1 opens the evening. The CBSO, led by David Afkham ranges from lyrical to passionate where appropriate. The pizzicato string sections are well controlled during this piece.

Gustav Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer is performed by the baritone Brett Polegato; who among other credits has performances at La Scala and l’Opera National de Paris to his name. His clear and intelligently used voice is a pleasure to listen to; however, the performance could benefit from more connection with the text.

The sublime orchestration and changes of mood in Schubert’s ‘Great’ symphony make it incredibly fulfilling to listen to from start to end: it is like a novel full of surprises that leaves a pang of loss once it has come to a close. David Afkham leads the CBSO intelligently, and the attention to the finer details really gives the piece the grand feel it requires. The string section is a joy to listen to, the triplet’s at the piece’s finale lay down a marker and make the performance a great success, if just short of being truly rousing.”     … (sic)

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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb: (for the matinee concert with different “overture”)

Click here for full review

…     “Afkham demonstrated his orchestral accompaniment skills in the second item: Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) with baritone Brett Polegato sharing the podium. Throughout, the woodwind section provided magnificent support with clarinettists Oliver Janes and Joanna Patton getting things off to a cracking start in Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht (When my darling has her wedding). Billed as a much sought-after lyric-baritone, I expected a more tender ‘ich’ as this wayfarer retired into his ‘traurigen Tag’ and I would have liked more contrast in the middle section as the beauty of the world is envisaged, prior to gloom overtaking him again. Mahler’s love of nature came across in the second movement, ‘Ging heut Morgen übers Feld’ (I Went This Morning over the Field) with the flutes of Marie-Christine Zupancic and Veronika Klirova prominent, yet this joyful mood did not seem reflected in Polegato’s body language;. However his closing Nein, nein, das ich mein, mir nimmer kann! did carry the right timbre. The despair of the wayfarer reached a climax in ‘Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer’ (I have a gleaming knife) mirrored by some ferocious string playing and although Polegato’s diction was always excellent, I did not experience the sheer agony the text portrays; any sensations of the cold steel were absent. The fourth song ‘Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz’ (The two blue eyes of my beloved) provides a resolution to the cycle, notable for its reference to an attachment Mahler had with the singer Johanna Richter from the Kassel Opera House. It also contains a mention of the Lindenbaum, following in the footsteps of his Germanic forefather Franz Schubert and his Winterreise (Winter Journey). All round this was the best execution of the four songs with Polegato’s fine communication of the dénouement and the soloist on the same wavelength as Afkham and the CBSO players.

The empathy Afkham had clearly struck with the CBSO continued in the main contribution to the matinée, Schubert’s Symphony No 9, the Great C Major. Above all they conveyed the expansive nature of the piece, driving relentlessly forward with a meaningful and measured pace, yet never losing sight of the plethora of Schubertian melody that infuses the 1825 score. The horn section got the Andante section of the first movement off to a glorious start (worthy of them being the first orchestral section to be signalled out by Afkham at the close) their beautiful theme suggestive of the beginning of a country stroll, a walk which other sections of the orchestra took turns to lead: the strings led by Laurence Jackson eagerly took up the motif, sonorously echoed by the woodwind. As the opening movement continued the trombone section of Edward Jones, Anthony Howe and David Vines (bass trombone) were soon demonstrating their strapping dexterities, adding their variation to the opening theme, enthusiastically taking the lyrical lead. In his pre-concert address CBSO violinist David Gregory had drawn attention to the symphony’s extensive use of trombones and enlisted the help of the CBSO three-man section to prove his point; we saw what he meant! Afkham moved effortlessly into the Allegro ma non troppo section, vividly highlighting the variety of colours Schubert used to expand his sonata form.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post: (for the matinee concert with different “overture”)

Click here for full review

…     “But what actually can anyone do with Schubert’s interminable Ninth Symphony?

Just give clear downbeats, keep counting the bars, and remember if you’re going to repeat sections or not. Afkham ticked all those boxes, and ticking away with him throughout were the amazing CBSO strings, so controlled in the infernal, eternal triplet figurations which spin out the finale to paid-by-the-note lengths.

What did help keep the interest alive here was Afkham’s cherishing of inner detail (possibly Schubert’s chamber-music writ large on this overblown canvas), and the sturdy, resonant horns, just two of them sounding like a huge choir, abetted by noble trombones.”     …

Andris Nelsons and Mitsuko Uchida

Thursday 2nd May 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Mitsuko Uchida  piano

Webern: Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6 13′ Listen on Spotify

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 17, K453 32′ Listen on Spotify

Messiaen: Oiseaux Exotiques  15′

Scriabin: The Poem of Ecstasy 22′ Listen on Spotify

To call Mitsuko Uchida   a legend is to sell her short: she’s a byword for freshness, intelligence, and   the special poetry that comes from a lifetime’s devotion to the greatest music   ever written. Here, she makes her long-awaited return to Birmingham with a revelatory   programme, pairing the beauty of Mozart at his most tuneful with the rainbow   hues of Messiaen’s Oiseaux   Exotiques. Andris Nelsons and the CBSO celebrate with two astonishing   bursts of pure orchestral colour and emotion.

“One of the highlights of our season: a rare opportunity to hear the   wonderful pianist Mitsuko Uchida live in concert. It is a pleasure for her to   work with us.” Andris Nelsons

Check out our blog:   Birmingham Post classical music critic, Christopher Morley, talks to Mitsuko   Uchida about “the terrors of performing Mozart” ahead of her concerts in May.

Watch on YouTube:   Listen to an interview with Mitsuko Uchida here

Post-concert talk at c. 9.45pm Stay late for a post-concert   conversation with CBSO music director Andris Nelsons and chief   executive Stephen Maddock.

www.cbso.co.uk

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Article by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Japanese pianist Mitsuko Uchida tells Christopher Morley how much she is looking forward to a return to Birmingham.

IT’S  impossible to feel anything else but happy when talking to Mitsuko Uchida. The  Japanese pianist positively bubbles with enthusiasm for her work and delights in  Mozart. It’s like listening to a soul-mate in a lively, non-stop  conversation.”      …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Op 6 is usually performed in Webern’s later revision, in which the orchestration is significantly scaled down, but here Nelsons conducted the original version, with its sextuple brass and quadruple wind. The sense of claustrophobia in having such huge forces focused on music of such economy was intense, and the climaxes were massive. But nothing like as huge as in Scriabin‘s Poem of Ecstasy with which Nelsons ended the concert, his superb performance urging the music on to one excess after another, while ensuring that every texture was wonderfully balanced, though still failing to overcome the work’s overriding sense of comical self-indulgence.”     …

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Review by Stephen Walsh, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “Yet when Mozart’s warmth was inescapable, in the lovely E flat episode of the Andante, they all came together marvellously. And the variation finale at last achieved a certain shared wit and brilliance: the tiger lay down with the lamb, and all ended happily.

Impossible not to love Mitsuko Uchida : her modest bearing, her palpable devotion to the music, her genuine concern that the orchestra should take the tiger’s share of the applause. After Messiaen’s ornithological piano concerto, Oiseaux exotiques, she solemnly handed bouquets to the different sections of the orchestra (wind and percussion).”     …

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

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…     “Nicely warmed up, the audience chirruped in anticipation as the stage was reorganised for Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 17 in G major.  It was a rare sighting: this renowned interpreter of Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven in Birmingham, especially working with a conductor, since Uchida’s usual preference is to direct from the piano herself.  Simply entitling the programme “Andris Nelsons and Mitsuko Uchida” was clearly significant rather than merely über-literal.  Uchida had a relaxed rapport with a vibrant Nelsons, but at the same time her attitude of absolute engagement with the orchestra betrayed the fact that she was used to leading the way.  It was fascinating to witness someone so fully involved with the music when not actually playing, either hugging herself or tempted during the orchestra’s delicate opening to test out joining them in a few imaginary bars, hands perched six inches above the keys.”     …

*****

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Andris Nelsons, however, is a conductor who always goes  further, and here created a sound canvas so tantalisingly complex it seemed  almost romantic in nature.

A lesser composer would probably have flogged such  exquisitely short-lived material to death, which in a way is what Scriabin does  in his gargantuan Poem of Ecstasy. Nelsons, though, went beyond Scriabin’s  gushing Expressionism and big climaxes – all delivered by a supercharged  orchestra in dazzling form – to explore the more subtle aspects of the score and  its indebtedness to French impressionism.

His support for Mitsuko Uchida in Mozart’s Piano Concerto  No. 17 was equally well considered, with elegant phrasing and a wide dynamic  spectrum complementing the soloist’s crisp articulation and pellucid  runs.”     …

*****

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:

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…     “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:

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…     “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