CBSO at the Cheltenham Festival


Cheltenham Town Hall *****
The five fingers of one hand are probably more than enough to number the truly great trumpet concertos in the repertoire, but after Saturday's premiere of the new Trumpet Concerto by Thea Musgrave we certainly need another digit.
Commissioned jointly by the CBSO (who gave this first performance) and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and dedicated to Alison Balsom, Artistic Director of the Cheltenham Music Festival of which this concert was a vibrant highlight, the only factor that might preclude frequent hearings of the piece is its scoring for a large percussion section, three players needed to deploy a cornucopia of instruments.
Combined with an otherwise modest orchestra they provide a kaleidoscope of colours with which the music responds to a series of tree- paintings by Victoria Crowe, burgeoning with vitality even at moments of stasis. Balsom's solo trumpet sings, almost pastorally at times, though there is also much tricky technical figuration, brilliantly encompassed, and throughout this 20-minute work there is much interaction between the trumpet and orchestral soloists, most spectacularly when an offstage orchestral trumpet takes the platform and converses as an alter ego.
Edward Gardner, conducting as a late replacement for an indisposed Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, drew a fluid reading from the CBSO, no mere routine of getting through the notes of a new score, and the result was a triumph for all concerned, not least the much-loved and much-respected composer present in the audience. And how wonderful to hear a contemporary piece where an A major ending soars above everything else below.
Offstage magic had also enhanced a wonderful account of Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, with the second string orchestra, positioned, I guess, in the corridor outside, adding an ethereal element which perhaps emanated from Gardner's experience as a boy chorister at Gloucester Cathedral, where the piece was premiered long before any of us present was born.
And we concluded with a gripping Walton First Symphony, taut, vital, and with Gardner's unflinching grasp revealing the thematic links between all four movements. It was a spine-tingling moment when the second timpanist and the percussion section (silent since the Musgrave) were unleashed right at the very end.
Christopher Morley

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