Symphony Hall *****

Word has spread like wildfire over jungle drums that the CBSO is playing at the top of its even more than normally tremendous form. Combine this with an appearance by the wonderful conductor John Wilson in one of the orchestra's highly popular matinee concerts and you can put your money on a packed Symphony Hall such as we hearteningly experienced on Wednesday.
The welcome this modest man received was long, warm and genuine from musicians and punters alike. One can understand why the players love him. He is so obviously well-prepared, rehearses meticulously, and yet brings a spark of spontaneity, perhaps in the nuanced moulding of a phrase, to his elegant, economical and crystal-clear platform manner. And he never seems to break sweat!
Wilson is perhaps most renowned in the public perception for his brilliant direction of film scores and stage musicals. None among the latter comes greater than Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (actually an estimable opera), and Robert Russell Bennett's Symphonic Picture deftly reconstructing the work's tumbling generosity of material kicked off this afternoon in engaging style.
Somehow Wilson created a mysterious, floaty tension from which all the great numbers emerged, tight and jazzy, with great rhythmic detail. Brass and saxes obviously enjoyed themselves, big-band in ensemble, but with much delicacy in the solos too. Strings both melted and sang (what a silky "Summertime"), the banjo strummed infectiously in "I got plenty of nuttin'", and "Bess, you is my woman now" was something very special.
Practically contemporaneous with Porgy and Bess is Rachmaninov's Third Symphony, in which Hollywood meets the Russian Orthodox Church, whose chants figure so prominently throughout the composer's output.
Its rhythms well sprung, melodic detail intertwining so tellingly, the symphony raises a multitude of dark questions, all resolved in a variety of ways. There are gorgeous melodies galore, such as the first movement's second subject, gloriously delivered by the cellos, but also nervous, almost neurotic passages (juddering violas in the first and third movements). Wilson and the CBSO wove this fascinating score into a wonderfully compelling entity.
Between these two masterpieces came Glazunov's Violin Concerto, a quirkily-structured piece in which an interminably lyrical opening leads via a prolonged cadenza into a selfconsciously dance-like finale which seems a celebration of inconsequence.
Ning Feng was the soloist, his tone throatily mellow and burnished, intonation sweet and pure, and discreetly marshalling his undoubted virtuosity
Wilson and the CBSO collaborated empathetically, but Feng's true gifts were allowed to shine his brief Bach encore, melodic lines meeting in secure multiple-stopping, and his marvellous 1710 Stradivarius permitted to make its points in this truly great violin music.
Christopher Morley

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