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Seen and Heard Concert Review


Stravinsky: Four Etudes, Violin Concerto in D and The Nightingale, Daniel Hope(violin) vocal soloists, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Chorus, Sakari Oramo, Symphony Hall, Birmingham 14.6.2006 (JW)

Soloists in The Nightingale: Anu Komsi - Nightingale, Roderick Williams - Emperor, Andrew Rees - Fisherman, Donna Bateman -Cook, Frances McCafferty - Death, Neal Davies -Chamberlain, Timothy Martin - Bonze



There was a disappointing attendance for this all-Stravinsky programme, part of the CBSO's ambitious IgorFest programme, with Birmingham's Symphony Hall only around half full. Those who were there, however, enjoyed an excellent and rigorous musical evening and showed their appreciation warmly.

The concert opened in a slightly understated way, with the Four Etudes, works written to show the virtuosity of a particular instrument and transcribed in this incarnation for full orchestra. The first, showcasing pipe and drum, was crisply articulated and made a brisk start to the evening. The second has a complete change of tempo, a long slow opening and a velvety texture throughout. The orchestra perhaps faltered a little in this slower movement, but music director Sakari Oramo soon brought them back on course and into a second slow movement with long string chords and a haunted echo to close. The fourth section of the work,' Madrid' - inspired by that city, where Stravinsky lived for a short period, is a sudden return to a fast tempo, recalling traffic, urgency, clamour and hurry. The sound world is reminscent of 'The Soldier's Tale'. Flute and percussion deserve a special mention.


This was followed by the Violin Concerto, where the CBSO where joined by the young and talented soloist Daniel Hope. This work has a showman-like role for the soloist, who plays almost continuously in a moto perpetuo-like part. The first movement has an almost fairground-like sound world, with repeated turn figures for the soloist underpinned by full sweeping string chords from the orchestra and occasional low brass, as if from a bandstand. The sound was full and warm, with enthusiastic playing from the orchestra as well as the soloist, the substantial hall being filled easily by their sound. This continued throughout the slower second movement and the distinctive half mournful, half joyful third movement with its hints of jazz, before a return to the perpetuo moto style of the opening.

Hope, who retains youthful dynamism whilst showing increasing maturity, excelled in this demanding part, which he played with tireless vigour. The orchestral accompaniment was supple and gave an impression of effortless ease. Commendation is due particularly to the flute section once again and for the trumpet solos in the last movement. The audience, despite its modest size was warmly appreciative of this fine performance.

After several curtain calls, Hope played Ravel's 'Kaddish' as an encore, dedicating this to Ligeti, a thoughtful and moving gesture. The haunting beauty of this piece, whose sound world contrasted with that of the preceding Stravinsky concerto, showed off Hope's musical versatility and was again warmly received in Symphony Hall.

The second half of the evening was given to a concert performance of Stravinsky's short opera The Nightingale, based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of the same name. Anu Komski excelled in the title role, her high soprano having an other-worldly quality ideal for the part. The baritone Chamberlain (Neal Davies) was particularly dignified, clear and forceful.

The orchestral playing was also meritorious. The lyrical opening prelude had a serene beauty most apt to convey the nocturnal scene. In the second act, the change in tempo and mood was handled well with rhythmic and precise playing whose vibrancy filed the hall with sound. Special merit here goes to the horn section, increasingly called on as the work progressed.

The peformance was again warmly received, with lengthy applause and calls, albeit unheeded, for another encore. The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio Three and if you were not able to hear it then I would recommend that you use the 'Listen Again' facility from the Radio 3 website to enjoy this excellent performance, which combines interesting works with fine musicanship. I would also commend the rest of Birmingham's 'IgorFest' project, which continues next Thursday, 22 June, with a programme of sacred choral music.



Julie Williams


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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)