CBSO Jonathan Dove premiere reviewed

CBSO PREMIERES JONATHAN DOVE'S "IN EXILE"



CBSO

Symphony Hall ****


"Daybreak again" begins Jonathan Dove's In Exile, but don't expect a radiant sunrise. The dawn that opens this latest CBSO Centenary commission – half song-cycle, half cello concerto – is overcast and ashen, fading in from the basses and up through the orchestra in layers of sombre grey while the cello of Raphael Wallfisch spins an endless, yearning stream of heartbroken melody. The clue's in the title, of course. In Exile is dedicated to Wallfisch's mother Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, whose skill as a cellist saved her from the gas chamber at Auschwitz, and the whole piece is a meditation on the pain of exile.



So (as Dove explained from the platform), the solo cello (Wallfisch) and the baritone soloist (Sir Simon Keenlyside) represent a single individual, with Alasdair Middleton's text (collaged from various sources, with an ear for poetic resonance rather than superficial point-making) suggesting a dawn-to-dusk arc. The serene final bars suggested a qualified optimism, though as Wallfisch's cello ascended, still wordless, into silence, the ending was deliberately unresolved.



But as you'd expect from an opera composer of Dove's calibre, the journey there was eventful and (given the tragic nature of the subject) strikingly vivid. Sweeps of orchestral colour portrayed metaphorical arrows; there were seascapes and driving, urgent ostinato rhythms. Keenlyside declaimed his lines in heroic tones while Wallfisch provided a keening, sighing counterpoint. Grave, impassioned and masterfully paced, In Exile packs a real emotional punch, and the applause was warm.



This was the conductor Gergely Madaras's first appearance with the CBSO, and he'd opened with Sibelius's Finlandia. After the interval came Dvorak's New World symphony: a taut, intensely dramatic reading in which rhythms were springy and the climaxes positively roared. None of which prevented Rachael Pankhurst from playing her cor anglais solo with a tenderness that was all the sweeter for being so utterly unaffected. This was a performance to blow away the cobwebs, and it's no particular reflection on Dove to say that in Madaras's hands, a work composed in 1893 sounded as urgent as the one premiered in 2021.



Richard Bratby

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