CBSO at Symphony Hall (September 20) ★★★★★
It was an occasion for both reflecting on the past and looking to the future. A collective farewell was made to the late Queen with an immaculately observed minute’s silence followed by a fulsome greeting to the new monarch with the CBSO, orchestra and chorus, leading the audience in ‘God Save the King’. There was loud and long applause for the sub-principal first violin Colin Twigg who is leaving the CBSO after 31 years – he joined a few months before Queen Elizabeth II opened Symphony Hall. A warm welcome too for Kazuki Yamada who next April takes over as Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor after his highly successful four years as Principal Guest Conductor. After more than two years of Covid-wrecked concert schedules the opening concert of the new season was, one hopes, the harbinger of great things to come. Hope inspired in part by a capacity audience: how heartening to see Symphony Hall packed once again, a point both Yamada and CBSO chief executive Stephen Maddock made in their addresses to us.
Let’s not forget the music. The concert, topped-and-tailed by Dvořák, got off to a blistering start with his ‘Carnival’ Overture where he plunges us straight into the action; ‘the clangour of instruments, mingled with shouts of joy and the unrestrained hilarity’ as he described it. The CBSO demonstrated all the necessary vim and panache for the outer sections of this sometimes breathless piece separated by some sensitive sylvan wind playing in the central section. In the era of conveyor-belt conductors – prioritizing uniform tempi, minimal vibrato and with one eye constantly on the metronome markings – Yamada is (in the best possible way) a throwback to an earlier time. Tempi were flexible, details interestingly brought to the foreground and the sort of expressive rubato was employed, especially in the first movement, which Dvořák and his contemporaries would have expected. The famous Largo was daringly broad but such was Yamada’s grip that it never sagged, and it was illuminated by gorgeous wind playing, notably Rachael Pankhurst’s cor anglais. Our friends in Ukraine were not forgotten: Ukranian-born, Estonian-based composer Galina Grigorjeva’s meditative choral miniature ‘In Paradisum’ delivered with hushed beauty by the CBSO Chorus under Simon Halsey. In between a returning favourite Nicola Benedetti was the accomplished soloist in Mendelssohn’s E Minor Violin Concerto; passionate in the long opening movement, phrasing sensitively in the Andante, and with all the required vivacity in the finale.