CBSO at Symphony Hall with Christopher Morley
"Local boy makes good" is an easy opener, but in this case it really has to be said, telling as it does the whole heart-warming story.
Birmingham-born Alpesh Chauhan was a cellist in the Birmingham Schools Symphony Orchestra and the CBSO Youth Orchestra. After studies with Michael Seal's conducting academy he became assistant conductor of the CBSO, and he now has his own Arturo Toscanini Orchestra in Parma (food capital of Italy, which suits him down to the ground).
His return to the CBSO podium was well-received both by the orchestra and a well-filled auditorium (full marks for getting past all the increasingly off-putting roadworks and the stringent security apparatus for the forthcoming Tory Conference).
The programme had its roots entirely in Chauhan's adopted country, beginning with Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet fantasy-overture.in which the conductor wove a haunting string web of regret before launching into a well-paced tumult -- and commendably bringing his left hand into play only for telling moments.
Pavel Kolesnikov was a perfect collaborator with the orchestra for Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, now effervescent, now thoughtful in his punctuation of these colourful textures. The piece emerged as the sinfonia concertante for orchestra and piano that it actually is.
Orchestra and conductor really came into their own in the Intermezzi from Puccini's Madam Butterfly and Manon Lescaut, sumptuous in tone, strings phrasing like soloists, and everything delivered with an ardour which surely had the composer smiling down on us.
We concluded with the hugely-scored Feste Romane of Respighi, off-stage trumpets sounding brilliant in this perennially wonderful acoustic, Chauhan coaxing vivid orchestral detail (even the colouristic mandolin came across clearly), with everything sweepingly, spectacularly conveyed.
But this rambling score is so horribly redolent of the self-empowerment of Mussolini's Fascist regime (Respighi is far more approachable in his more modest works for chamber-orchestra, such as the Botticelli Triptych) -- and before anyone pipes up to demur, I have my mother's brainwashing school-reports from that era, and they don't make pretty reading.