CBSO Sibelius, Mahler, Nielsen review


CBSO at Symphony Hall *****
Thanks to the brilliant work of conductors from Harold Gray, through Simon Rattle and on to Sakari Oramo the CBSO has long had the symphonies of Sibelius and Nielsen under its fingertips. As a violinist within the orchestra Michael Seal was part of the osmosis, and now as a conductor he unleashed here from his ex-colleagues an awesome amount of pent-up energy in Sibelius 3 and Nielsen 5
He launched the Sibelius at a rattling (sorry!) pace -- no allegro moderato, this -- strings immediately biting, tickingly accurate in their momentum. Yet in the second movement Seal and his strings found a meltingly Tchaikovskyan texture (Danse Arabe from the Nutcracker came to mind) under the woodwinds' sad little dancing-song.
The finale is difficult to make convincing, but it certainly came off in this reading, Seal's flow and flexibility eventually coalescing into a genuinely uplifting ending.
Nielsen's Fifth Symphony arrives at the same destination, but by a very different route. The players captured all the troubled inertia of the opening (wonderful bassoons), shaken eventually into action by the best hell-for-leather snare-drum improvised assault I've ever heard in this work, then pacified by Oliver Janes' spell-binding offstage clarinet quelling the anger of a now offstage snare-drum.
The tricky finale was convincingly structured by Seal and his players, exuberant and affirmative -- but always with a question-mark.
Between these two symphonic earthquakes came five of Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs, redolent with nostalgia for a distant past, and drawing from baritone soloist Christopher Maltman a range of tones, from the honeyed to the bitter, an engaging body-language, and painting pictures of the imagery of several Mahler symphonies which I'm impatient to hear Seal conduct.
Christopher Morley

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