Macelaru’s City of Birmingham Sym. debut: “Irresistable”

Macelaru’s City of Birmingham Sym. debut: “Irresistable”

‘Irresistable’ is how The Telegraph described Cristian Macelaru’s debut with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on September 23, 2015. Garnering 4 stars in The Telegraph, The Times and The Arts Desk, Macelaru made a striking impression in a pair of extraoardinary concerts with the CBSO last week from Birmingham’s Symphony Hall in England. He led a compelling program of Sibelius’ Finlandia, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the ever-popular Simon Trpceski and Nielson’s epic Fourth Symphony.

Here are highlights from the three rave reviews:

From The Telegraph:
“Winner of the 2014 Solti Conducting Award, and with highly regarded appearances in Philadelphia and Chicago under his belt, Romanian-born conductor Cristian Macelaru brought to Birmingham the reputation of a rising star. By the end of the concert, this reputation was largely confirmed. A solid Sibelius Finlandia immediately showed that he is no trickster, but an artist who builds his interpretations on respect and musical insight, almost to the point of self-effacement.

The second half was given over to Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony ‘The Inextinguishable’. This may be the Dane’s best-known work, and the most direct in its impact thanks to its timpani duels in the finale. But it covers an enormous amount of ground in its 35 minutes, and can feel episodic unless the conductor keeps a firm grip on the structure. Never tempted to over-react to passages of violent disruption, or, at the other extreme, to exaggerate the score’s repeated requests for calm, Macelaru placed the climaxes with unerring instinct and led into and away from them with consummate skill…. The drive towards the final affirmation was irresistible, thanks to the near-ideal pacing of everything that had preceded it.”

From The Arts Desk:
“Cards on the table: The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is looking for a new music director. Having filled its new season with emerging talents … it’s an open secret that any concert directed by a youngish, more-or-less unattached conductor in Birmingham for the foreseeable future is effectively an audition for the job. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. All of which created a certain buzz around this Birmingham debut by the Romanian-born, Philadelphia-based Cristian Macelaru. As winner of the 2014 Solti Fellowship, Macelaru comes attended by reams of praise from U.S. critics – never any guarantee of success with a British orchestra. His unassuming stage presence, though, suggested a certain seriousness which, within bars of the opening of Sibelius’s Finlandia, had translated eloquently into sound. Macelaru has already identified and harnessed one of the CBSO’s greatest strengths, Oramo’s and Nelsons’s joint legacy to the orchestra – the depth of its string section. He built textures from the basses up, shaping a sombre, Wagnerian Finlandia that traded roof-raising theatricality for tense symphonic drama.

Macelaru’s ability to shape a phrase and to characterise a melody or tone-colour also paid handsome dividends in Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto. Rachmaninoff once wrote that he conceived the first theme of the Third Concerto as something to be sung by the piano, and that’s exactly how it came across. It helped, of course, that Simon Trpceski was the soloist…. Macelaru drew seldom-heard colours from the orchestral part: a distant glint of Russian nationalist jewellery in the finale’s col legno passage; and meltingly soft horns in the transition out of the first movement’s epic cadenza – which drew from Trpceski, in turn, an exquisite tenderness of tone. I’ve heard more spectacular performances of this concerto, but rarely a more musical one.

Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony looked on paper like a rather more severe test for Macelaru – not because in this anniversary year, we’ve heard it too many times (as if!), but because the CBSO has a Nielsen tradition dating back through Oramo and Rattle to Harold Gray’s cycle (the U.K.’s first) in the 1960s. All the more impressive, then, that he managed to say something distinctive about the piece from the very outset – and without any overt point-making or micromanagement…. Woodwind solos were fresh without being folksy; and he even managed to maintain a sense of pregnant symphonic tension throughout the Poco allegretto. The cumulative effect was powerful, coherent and entirely gripping. The orchestra looked like they were enjoying themselves too (not that one should read anything into that). But whether or not Cristian Macelaru proves to be the CBSO’s ‘Mr. Right’, this was a seriously impressive debut – and hopefully not the last time we’ll see him in Brum.”

From The Times:
“At the helm was Cristian Macelaru. A violinist turned conductor, Macelaru made his mark in the U.S. when he stepped in for Pierre Boulez in Chicago in 2012. He is now resident at the Philadelphia Orchestra and is the first of the CBSO’s roster of guests this season while the orchestra hunts for a new permanent conductor. Macelaru was not a showy presence but assured, steady and thoughtful, capable of letting the music breathe and tell its own story. His Sibelius Finlandia opened with a heavy tread, but was confidently steered to its triumphant end…. Nielsen’s ‘The Inextinguishable’ … was bold and compelling.

Each section of the CBSO gleamed: the strings meticulous and intense, with particularly gutsy violas, the wind sensitive and the brass glorious. And in the final movement, the duelling timpanists were wonderfully exhilarating — surely the embodiment of what Nielsen wanted this music to express, ‘the Elemental Will of Life’.

Click here to read the complete reviews: