Norman Stinchcombe's latest CBSO review

SORENSEN'S HARPSICHORD CONCERTO DISAPPOINTS

CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★

The Danish composer Bent Sørensen's Bach-inspired harpsichord concerto in six movements 'Sei anime' ('Six Souls') received its UK premiere. Sørensen told us that the title would more be accurately construed as 'Six Lonely Souls'. The soloist Mahan Esfahani and the Bergen Philharmonic gave the world premiere last month but, having listened to it three times, repeated hearings have failed to reveal any depths under its rebarbative, busily unigratiating surface. Esfahani wasn't always audible, despite having a microphone thrust under the lid and five speakers strung across the platform. He was, though, in its final seconds as he leant inside and plucked the strings by hand. Sometimes the instrument tinkled like a music box with a stuck mechanism accompanied by wind glissandi and belching brass, the latter sounding very like Sørensen's 1990 trombone work 'The bells of Vineta'. I didn't discern any organic connection between the harpsichord and orchestra. Perhaps that was the intention – two lonely solipsistic souls sharing a platform. It was a huge disappointment after his 2019 second symphony where the violent outbursts and ominous atmosphere were interwoven, and made explicable, by bursts of intense lyricism.

In the D Major Concerto, for harpsichord and strings, by C.P.E. Bach, Esfahani showed why his playing so is highly appreciated for its energy, precision and colour. It's an elegant piece, not as interestingly quirky and idiosyncratic as his solo music, but very enjoyable with the CBSO's crisp playing. Audibility was no problem here for Bach often rapidly alternates soloist and strings and shares motifs in call-and-response style. In Ravel's dance-inspired orchestral suite 'Le tombeau de Couperin', François Couperin's elegant baroque music receives a stylish homage. The conductor Ludovic Morlot teased out some très élégant playing from the orchestra and an irresistibly jolly 'Rigaudon'. Stravinsky's 'Pulcinella Suite' was also delightfully played with piquancy and wit. What a wizard of orchestration, and master of surprise, Stravinsky was. After the mock-pompous opening Sinfonia he jump-cuts to the Serenata – surely one of his most beautiful melodies – with ravishing oboe from Oliver Nordahl (as in the Ravel). Stravinsky the autocrat is democratic here, all the band get a chance to shine. I loved the gallumping dance for double basses and trombone. A terrific end to the evening.

Norman Stinchcombe

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