CBSOSchumann review


Symphony Hall *****
Readers will remember that the Dutch conductor Jac van Steen was high on my shortlist for CBSO principal conductor before the Mirga whirlwind hit us..
On the evidence of this matinee concert given before a packed audience, and the applause he received on both sides of the footlights, he certainly remains a firm favourite in all our hearts. His beat is clear, his gestures are understated but so communicative, and his rapport with the listeners and players is something magical.
He balanced the busy textures of excerpts from Smetana's Bartered Bride with smiling precision, coaxing awesome dexterity from the players, and then provided a neat and spirited accompaniment to Steven Osborne's busy, tireless and exhilarating account of the Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto (yes, what a fortnight of this composer the CBSO players have had!).
Bouncy and skirling (what wonderful two-hand unisons in the first movement's Toytown march), Osborne wittily conveyed all the work's mock heroics, and then found unexpected depths in the slow movement's dreamy nocturne. The toccata figurations of the finale fizzed like cheap Russian champagne (and I've sunk a bit on my travels).
But then came true grandeur from van Steen, with a reading of Schumann's Rhenish Symphony which simply leapt off the page. Its admittedly thick scoring (which actually adds to its fervour) demands noble brass -- here in spades, horns, trumpets, sonorous trombones etching woodcuts of imagery into the texture -- and an inspiriting lift to phrasing and weight upon accents, all of which happened under van Steen's cultured baton.
Only one cavil, and it's nothing to do with the performance. A storage door was left open on the side of the stage, and it didn't half jar with at least one person present.
Christopher Morley

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