Tag Archives: Birmingham Symphony Hall

CBSO Friday Night Classics: A Wonderful Christmastime

A relaxed and festive atmosphere met the audience of the Symphony Hall on Friday, 13th December 2013, as the CBSO took to the stage to begin the Christmas Celebrations in earnest. Conductor Carl Davis took charge of the orchestra for the evening, and from start to finish, he was a man possessed – dancing his way through Christmas Classics such as Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Wonderful Christmastime, and Let it Snow! with the liveliness and enthusiasm of one tasked with instilling that Christmassy feeling into the hearts of each and every audience member.


Right from the very start, Davis’s Christmas cheer was infectious. He was able to put a really personal spin on the evening’s proceedings, aided in no small way by his playful chats with the audience, in between each number. Indeed, audience participation was the order of the day here, as, in many of the Christmas favourites, such as When a Child is Born, Davis would turn to the audience and gesture for them to sing along.

The performances of the two soloists further added to this festive feeling. Lance Ellington, of Strictly Come Dancing fame, was smooth throughout, giving a particularly velvety rendition of The Christmas Song. Ellington’s co-star, Katy Treharne, gave an equally stellar performance, culminating in her touching delivery of Niles’s I Wonder As I Wander. The pair enjoyed great chemistry, especially in duets such as Baby it’s Cold Outside.


It was above all, however, the orchestra that stole the show, performing beautifully arranged, traditional Christmas classics with skill and ease. Whether accompanying the vocalists, or performing festive favourites such as A Christmas Overture by Hess, and Prokofiev’s Troika from Lieutenant Kijé, the CBSO constantly entertained its audience. The players were also game for some festive frivolity, as, after the interval, the majority of them reappeared wearing assorted Christmas paraphernalia; knitwear, tinsel clad instruments, Santa hats, and reindeer antlers. Conductor Carl Davis also got in on the act; he resurfaced after the interval (to his biggest cheer of the evening) wearing a resplendent red suit and tails – which, along with his mane of white hair, resulted in more than a passing resemblance to Chris Cringle himself.

CBSO_Dress_Rehearsal_2011_166.sizedFittingly then, it was Davis who would produce more delightful presents for the audience. The second half proceeded in even more of a ‘song and dance’ style than the first, culminating in the energetic encore, Wizzard’s I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day. This capped a fine evening, as Davis and the orchestra went into Christmas party overdrive – the audience were ordered to their feet for the biggest sing-and-dance-a-long of the evening. Leaving Symphony Hall, I could not help but carry with me a huge smile and a large helping of Christmas Cheer. With the big event nearly upon us, this concert was the perfect way to kick off the festive season.

By James Parsliffe     @jamesparsliffe

CBSO Carmen and Boléro @ Birmingham Symphony Hall

Alain Altinoglu. Photo: Fred Toulet

Alain Altinoglu. Photo: Fred Toulet

Ensemble: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Conductor:  Alain Altinoglu
Soloist: Nora Gubisch (soprano)


Bizet Carmen Suite No. 2
Ravel Shéhérazade
Bizet Symphony in C
Ravel Boléro

The CBSO have produced a hugely energetic and charismatic performance of romantic and impressionist French music under conductor Alain Altinoglu.  Opening with Bizet’s Carmen Suite No. 2, the well known melodies of the seductive ‘Hanbera’ and the dramatic ‘Danse Boheme’ were performed with tremendous energy and precision whilst the work as a whole explored fully the dramatic intentions of the composer.  The trumpet performance in the equally popular ‘Chanson du Toreador’ was notably impressive!

The concert featured a solo performance from soprano Nora Gubisch in Ravel’s Shéhérazade.  Gubisch’s voice sat delicately on top of the complex underlying harmonies in the quiet passages of the first movement and changed character entirely when the movement underwent sudden changes of mood, demonstrating the soprano’s remarkable versatility and musicality which continued throughout the work.  The string section was also impressive in its detail and control with moments of shimmering sound.

Bizet’s Symphony in C, written when the composer was just seventeen, is a hugely accomplished work for someone so young and was performed with a youthful energy reflecting this. However, it was always at a tempo which allowed for the subtlest moments of expression to be enjoyed fully, particularly in the first movement, preventing the rapid string passages in the fourth movement from being rushed whilst maintaining a joyful momentum.  The second movement saw a terrific oboe performance and a very enjoyable fugal section with clear lines and bright, engaging, entries.  As a whole, the work was performed with a real sense of joy and an endearing light-heartedness that was reciprocated in the faces of audience members.

Closing the concert was a performance of Ravel’s celebrated Boléro.  Having never seen the work performed live before, it quickly became apparent that no recording will ever capture the genius of this piece.  With each successive solo bringing its own character not only in timbre, but also in nature of expression, above the hypnotic snare drum ostinato, an antiphonal effect is created (as well as visual intrigue) that is not captured by recording equipment. Altinoglu’s directions and subtlest intimations were followed precisely by the orchestra, maintaining musical interest throughout, culminating in an explosive finish leaving the hall ringing with sound.

A hugely enjoyable performance from the CBSO and what’s more; they clearly enjoyed it too!

Daniel E. Smith