CBSO Youth Orchestra at Symphony Hall ★★★★★
In these dour dispiriting times the exuberance and abundance of music making in Birmingham is a source of pride for a native Brummie and these talented youngsters are an integral part of that. They ripped into Verdi’s overture from ‘The Force of Destiny’ as if the fate of the opera’s star-crossed lovers Leonora and Don Alvaro depended on them. Its disparate themes – romantic, martial, religious and humorous – cohered perfectly under conductor Michael Seal (stepping in for the indisposed announced conductor), illuminated by some fine playing. First clarinet take a bow. Lutosławski’s ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ may be his most popular work but it’s still unfamiliar to most concertgoers. Pundits usually employ a couple of tropes to make it appear less forbidding. The first is that it’s the second most popular ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ after Bartok’s – which just makes it a very distant second in a two-horse race. Except for the declamatory opening it sounds very little like the great Hungarian’s music. Nor is his use of folk themes like Bartok’s either; Lutosławski uses them instead as tiny melodic and rhythmic fragments cunningly woven together into an aural tapestry. It uses a huge orchestra with a massive percussion section and must be the very devil to play and conduct convincingly. It was a triumph for both the orchestra and Seal, whose avuncular unflappable presence always gets the best out of them. The demanding third movement was exhilarating, tracing the little motif that starts grumbling in the plucked basses, infiltrating every section and is eventually elevated for a triumphant final chorale.
Bruch’s crowd favourite Violin Concerto No. 1 may evince a groan in some critics but surely not when it’s played with such a luscious tone, rhythmic clarity – and a complete absence of schmaltz – as by the young American virtuoso Randall Goosby. He was a pupil of the great Itzhak Perlman and, like his teacher, has elegance and tonal beauty to spare but he’s his own man. Often soloists can’t resist adding an unmarked “Molto” to Bruch’s “Adagio” middle movement tempo thus turning its sumptuous romanticism into something more cloying. Goosby’s playing flowed and was all the better for it. A delightful and imaginative encore too with Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson's lively 'Louisiana Blues Strut: A Cakewalk for Solo Violin'.