Christopher Morley reviews the CBSO Benevolent Fund concert

HEART-BREAKING FOUR LAST SONGS AND NOBLE RIENZI

CBSO BENEVOLENT FUND CONCERT
Symphony Hall *****

Who can wonder at the immense amount of goodwill surrounding the CBSO? Not only are they one of the world's truly great orchestras, they radiate warmth and pleasure in their music-making and receive so much back from their audiences.
And all of this was in abundance from a well-filled auditorium on Friday for the annual CBSO Benevolent Fund. All involved – conductor, soloist, players, all b:music staff – generously donated their services, so every penny went to this important source of aid for players in times of trouble.
CBSO tuba Graham Sibley, Chairman of the CBSO Benevolent Fund Committee, thanked us for our support both financially and morally, and dedicated the concert to the memory of Anita Davies, such an enthusiastic, pro-active and resourceful supporter of the orchestra, and so movingly remembered by clarinettist Jo Patton in the afternoon's printed programme.
This mood of grateful valediction was summed up perfectly in a wonderful performance of Strauss' Four Last Songs. Somehow soprano Lucy Crowe was able to exercise total vocal control (and such eloquent body-language) in an account which obviously engaged her emotions as much as it did ours. I know of at least two people who had tears in their eyes at the end; she was the other one.
Strauss brings in the voice brilliantly, crepuscular and twilit, but immediately blossoming into radiance, and Crowe's golden tones conveyed so much visionary joy. Her stillness during fantastically-delivered instrumental solos (Eugene Tzikindelean's violin, Elspeth Dutch's horn – she is on such a roll! --, and so many others) was still part of this highly communicative delivery, and we ended with a gently operatic flicker of her eyes as flute trills signalled a flight upwards into heaven.
Wagner's splendid Rienzi Overture launched the afternoon. I have heard this first major opera by him only once, and hope to never again, as you need to have food parcels delivered during its length. But the overture is a different matter, noble, stirring, gorgeously melodic, and ending in a jaunty blend of the techniques of Weber and Meyerbeer. Trumpet control in the tapering dynamics of the opening summons was remarkable here, tone as the lower strings shifted from darkness to mellow richness was gripping. Conductor Fabien Gabel's clear, spacious beat was perfect for this gem of a rarity.
As it was for Brahms' Second Symphony, securing so much organic growth, the flowing lyricism of the first movement building a counterpoint which exploded in grinding dissonances, and then surprising us with pizzicato textures in the coda.
There are hints of Mahler and even Brahms' arch-enemy Tchaikovsky in this score, and Gabel discreetly nudged them all, including a surprisingly balletic third movement. He even made something convincing of the finale's concluding fanfares.
Christopher Morley

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