CBSO and Manfred review February 20 2019

Symphony Hall ***

What a difference one player makes! More of that later, but suffice it to say that this concert from one of the world's greatest orchestras began disconcertingly, with a muffed introductory flourish to Schumann's Manfred Overture under the baton of the CBSO's recently appointed principal guest conductor Kazuki Yamada.
We proceeded with a boxy, un-nuanced orchestral sound, though Yamada did succeed in ramping up the music's electric tension before its death-throe, Coriolan-like, ending.
Alexander Gavrylyuk was the heroic soloist in Prokofiev's spring-like Third Piano Concerto, ramping up the scintillation after a decidedly laboured orchestral introduction. He combined fleet delicacy of fingerwork with muscular assertiveness, riding some untidiness in the orchestra as the first movement's recapitulation approached, and progressed into a slow movement which glistened with the poetry of his articulation. The finale can never fail to be exciting, but the sound here was sometimes disappointingly cluttered.
And then, after the interval, Eduardo Vassallo took the stage and his customary seat on the front desk of the CBSO cellos. Immediately the sound of the strings was transformed, cutting and dark as Tchaikovsky's tortured Manfred Symphony opened, and this transformation spread across the orchestra and even to the podium.
Yamada's shaping of the gloomy first movement was seamless, all of a piece, and he allowed the intermezzo-like middle movements all the soloistic glory they require, as well as unleashing joyously that gorgeous Alpine Fairy melody which any composer would give his eye-teeth for.
The finale was gripping, at last with the catharsis of the blazing organ entry (I felt so sorry for the poor people who had had to leave early because of ridiculous public transport timetables). But glamorous slick securings aside, the CBSO desperately needs to appoint a new concertmaster the equal of Laurence Jackson and the much-missed Zoe Beyers.
Christopher Morley

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