Norman Stinchcombe's CBSO review 13.1.22

TRIUMPHAL SIBELIUS


CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★

By the time young American conductor Ryan Bancroft had reached the last triumphant bars of Sibelius's second symphony I was so engrossed in this dynamic performance I'd become unaware of wearing a face-mask – not something I ever thought I'd say. Bancroft didn't try to reverse-engineer the symphony, seeking out early intimations of the austere, mystical, enigmatic late Sibelius of 'Tapiola' and the seventh symphony. His was a big-boned, big hearted romantic approach – not unlike vintage Barbirolli – full of drama, rich sonorities and eager to seize on Sibelius's 'ma rubato' indication in the Andante. What a movement that it is, right from it's opening spooky, crepuscular low-string pizzicati articulated crisply by the CBSO's cello and bass sections. Even the muted ring tone from an idiot's mobile phone couldn't ruin playing of this intensity. The symphony's climax, built unerringly by Bancroft on a foundation of timpani and brass, underpinned by Graham Sibley's Fafner-like tuba, was overwhelming.

Timpani and trumpets excelled in Coleridge-Taylor's 'Solemn Prelude', rescued last year from obscurity at the Three Choirs Festival – 122 years after its premiere. The solemnity came in emphatic fanfares which alternated with a lyrical string-and-wind melody, the two blended together for a satisfyingly easeful close. It sounded rather like a Mendelssohn overture – filtered through Brahms – but was certainly worthy of reclamation. Genuine Mendelssohn, his Violin Concerto in E minor, came from German violinist Clara-Jumi Kang who excelled in the lively freewheeling finale and the song-without-words slow movement. I found the Allegro under-powered, definitely not 'molto appassionato'.

Norman Stinchcombe

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