The CBSO with Harish Shankar by John Gough
Just back from a taxing European tour the CBSO were on blistering form at Wednesday’s concert. Featuring three newcomers to Symphony Hall, this was a terrific evening of orchestral colour and sonic splendour.
The young Malaysian conductor Harish Shankar established his smiling presence from the start as Ravel’s ‘Mother Goose’ suite worked its customary magic. With reduced strings and chamber sonorities, the piece moved from delicate simplicity and a restrained coolness, gradually acquiring warmth and tenderness until ‘The fairy garden’ brought an ecstatic happy ending.
Is there a more sheerly beautiful opening to a 20th-century piano concerto than that of Prokofiev’s Third? Prokofiev composed the work with his own phenomenal but idiosyncratic pianistic agility in mind, alongside his psychological need to startle and delight, and this performance was just about ideal in its integration of the often conflicting demands of Prokofiev’s style.
After the lyrical opening, the movement went off like a rocket as the young Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg gave us remarkable display of his control of the hair-raising solo part. Layers of melody and decoration were masterfully managed and crystal clear with a luminous tone. The gear changes between the different sections and tempi were effortlessly achieved and conductor and soloist were as one. The orchestra teemed with propulsive detail and swaggered with confidence and faultless ensemble.
The elaborate variety of textures was seized upon with enthusiasm by everyone and at one point all of the fully occupied wind players were swaying in unison during a particularly rhythmic episode, like a dance band sax section. This was fabulously ‘live’ playing, and the whole performance was one of the utmost brilliance and virtuosity.
Little room left to enthuse about Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony except to say that CBSO, Shankar, and organist Darius Battiwalla gave it an elegant and stylish performance with surging forward momentum, an eloquently sustained slow movement and a judiciously paced finale, its cymbal-capped climaxes bringing a jubilant end to this majestic concert.