, CBSO review 15.6.22


CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★

How, musically, did the world begin? In Jean-Fèry Rebel's 'Les Èlemèns' it's with an ear-splitting chaotic chromatic cluster chord – a century ahead of its time – which claws its way to tonality. After a depiction of chaos in a murky minor Haydn's 'Creation' blazes into light with a dazzling forte C major. How, musically, will the world end? Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir's 'Catamorphosis' suggests that T.S. Eliot had the right idea; 'This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper." In her twenty-minute work, a CBSO Centenary Commission receiving its UK Premiere, fate doesn't knock at the door announcing imminent earthly destruction through climate change (Catastrophe + Metamorphosis) – it slithers in surreptitiously, sinuously through the gaps. Thorvaldsdottir uses large orchestral forces with immense restraint: there are strange susurrations from the brushed timpani underpinned by a constant anguished bass groan. There are musical mementos from before the catastrophe, melodic piano fragments and string melodies that start to soar before subsiding sideways in glissandos which end in silence as does the work itself, quietly evaporating. Thorvaldsdottir was clearly delighted with this immensely authoritative CBSO performance under Ludovic Morlot.

Don't look for understatement or technical brilliance for its own sake when violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja plays. When called for she can thrash the music within an inch of its life, throwing herself body and soul into the pursuit of musical truth – and damn the niceties. Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No.1 has seldom sounded so lacerating, mournful, desperate and consoling. In the Scherzo and Burlesque she was like a dervish, bare feet stamping out the rhythms; the opening Nocturne she shaved down almost to despairing silence. The great central Passacaglia was a triumph for her and the orchestra: Shostakovich's fanfare, stripped of trumpets and trombones, resounding hollowly. The audience's vociferous applause was well deserved. Morlot's control of colour and tricky rhythms paid dividends in orchestral music by Britten. The Symphonic Suite from his opera 'Gloriana' was a revelation when stripped of its dull declamatory libretto. The Tournament gained a sinister edge; in the 'Lute Song' Emmet Byrne's ravishing oboe out-charmed the tenor original, while the 'The Courtly Dances' gained a new riotous anti-decorum energy. The 'Four Sea Interludes' from 'Peter Grimes' wove their magic – the 'Storm' the perfect way to conclude a long and rewarding concert.

Norman Stinchcombe

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