Norman Stinchcombe's latest CBSO review

MIRGA;S STAND-IN MAKES HER CBSO DEBUT

CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla tested positive for Covid on the morning of this concert forcing her to cancel – three days before the CBSO is due to play in Germany at the start of a European tour. CBSO chief executive Stephen Maddock vowed, "The show will go on." The search is one for a replacement conductor for the early concerts. For this one CBSO assistant conductor Charlotte Politi stepped in, making her debut. Mieczysław Weinberg's fourth symphony was axed, replaced by three minutes of Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake'. Ramrod-straight, sharp-suited and refreshingly unhistrionic, Politi looked very assured all evening.

Weinberg's Symphony No.3 in B minor is familiar to regular concertgoers from performances here in 2019 and 2021. Weinberg, along with Shostakovich and others, was subject to the 1948 crackdown by Stalin's cultural henchman Zhdanov. Only the approachable and uplifting was now permitted. Or else. Folk music from the Soviet republics was state-approved and Weinberg made good, often ingenious use of it in this 1950 symphony. The Allegro giocoso second movement has delightful interplay between pizzicato strings and twittering pastoral woodwind, with Steve Hudson's oboe particularly beguiling. It's based on a Polish folk song and Weinberg transforms it in the finale – an exhibition class for the CBSO's wind section – to neatly tie things together. Deserved applause for all the players, especially trumpeter Jonathan Holland who is departing after nearly forty years with the orchestra.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason is an affable and talented young man having to learn his trade in the limelight. His performance of Shostakovich's second cello concerto is a work-in-progress, the score still near him like a comfort blanket, but a big improvement on his anaemic underpowered Elgar from 2019. There was, however, so much left unexplored. One example: half a dozen times the orchestra offers the soloist a banal little tune to cadentially comment upon. Kanneh-Mason played it dead straight each time. A naive response to a composer employing geological layers of irony and ambiguity. Listen to American cellist Alisa Weilerstein – six subtly different shades of wry dismissal – to hear what depths can be explored.

Norman Stinchcombe

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