CBSO review 7.10.21

JAMES EHNES WONDERFUL IN THE BRITTEN VIOLIN CONCERTO


CBSO
Symphony Hall ****

Two major prizewinners headlined this concert which looked fascinating on paper, but which actually proved largely disappointing.
Finnegan Downie Dear, winner of the Mahler Competition in 2020 was the conductor, and James Ehnes, recently announced as Gramophone Magazine's 2021 Artist of the Year, was the wonderful soloist in Britten's rarely-heard Violin Concerto.
Has anyone ever pointed out that Britten begins his piece with solo timpani strokes, just as his idol Beethoven did for the world's greatest violin concerto? Britten's ticking oscillations become part of the fabric of his patiently-built textures, and they were fascinatingly encompassed here, not least by bassoonist Nikolai Henriques (who had quite a starring role for the rest of the afternoon).
Ehnes brought to the supremely difficult violin part an elegant, elegiac tone allied to a glittering technique chipping away in reminders of the Prokofiev violin concertos. He seems almost like a ventriloquist of the violin, able to throw and mask its tone away from the confines of the instrument itself, and catching and holding the attention hypnotically. The CBSO, shrewdly led by concertmaster Eugene Tzikindelean, partnered Ehnes with appreciative elan. A beautifully played Bach encore seemed superfluous and inappropriate after this.
Downie Dear's reading of Mozart's subtle, piercing Idomeneo Overture was decidedly big band, with stiff, severe rhythms, and little sense of the complex drama that ensues in the opera.
And his Beethoven Pastoral Symphony was certainly full-throated, cultivating lyricism at the occasional expense of inner detail (though the brookside woodwind were playing deliciously), and sometimes mannered in the phrasing. This over-emphasis upon surface impact led to a uniformity of tone, making the storm innocuous rather than cataclysmic, and the ensuing Shepherd's Hymn therefore lost some of its comforting sense of blessed solace.
Christopher Morley

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