CBSO at Symphony Hall *****
"It looks as though we're in for another Golden Age," a very senior member of the CBSO hierarchy told me after Kazuki Yamada's first concert with the orchestra since the announcement of his appointment as Principal Conductor.
I very much agree, as it was obvious that there is already much mutual affection and respect pulsating between players and maestro, a symbiosis which also spreads to the delighted audience. It is almost superfluous to state that the musical results are simply outstanding.
We began with a rarity, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture featuring an unaccompanied choral rendition of the opening Tsarist hymn normally trudged through by the orchestral strings. Here Simon Halsey;s CBSO Chorus, socially-distanced, as were all the players, began in stunningly hushed tones, responding as one to Yamada's shaping of dynamics and sonorities, maintaining sturdy intonation confirmed by the orchestra's dramatic entry.
From here on this was no hackneyed run-through such as the CBSO used to have to deliver on a regular basis half a century ago in the Royal Albert Hall as a nice little earner, but a reading now vivid, now subtle, and building to a genuinely exciting conclusion joyously endorsed by the Chorus.
Totally different was the choral singing in Poulenc's Gloria, projecting its cheekily assured Catholicism with Stravinskyan punch and clarity, and melting with tenderness in the more incense-laden moments.
Carolyn Sampson was the wonderful soprano soloist, fearless in the high-lying tessitura, and often bringing us close to the mystic world of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites opera. Under Yamada's deft baton the orchestra played with pungency and rhythmic bite.
Then came the turn of the CBSO Youth Chorus, their pure tones flowing in the serenity of Faure's endearing little Messe Basse, sensitively marshalled by chorus-master Julian Wilkins, and supported by Anna Lapwood's sensitively-balanced organ.
Once one of the CBSO's perhaps over-played party-pieces, Saint-Saens' s mighty Organ Symphony here provided a spectacular conclusion. Lapwood tackled all her instrument's climactic exposure with great aplomb, and Yamada's easy, generous beat allowed the music all its ebb and flow of surging energy and heartfelt repose. The only disappointment was just one pair of hands at the piano for the tremendous finale instead of a busy two.
Cheers and a standing ovation at the end were a natural response to this heartening evening. And much of the programme evoked the heady days of Principal Conductor Louis Fremaux in the 1970s, founder of the CBSO Chorus and harbinger of that Golden Age.
Christopher Morley

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