CITY OF BIRMINGHAM SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Symphony Hall *****
Two stars new to the city illuminated Birmingham on Tuesday, bringing a programme applauded to the rafters by yet another well-filled house for a CBSO matinee.
The exciting young Swiss-Australian conductor Elena Schwarz magicked us with a well-coloured, rhythmically lively Dukas Sorcerer’s Apprentice, its ending so crestfallen that we couldn’t help but feel for Fantasia’s Mickey Mouse.
Schwarz’ beat was mercurial, crisp yet meltingly flowing where appropriate, but restraining itself appropriately when collaborating in thr concerto, here Prokofiev’s Second for the Violin.
Soloist was Clara-Jumi Kang, her rich, singing tone never hectoring in Prokofiev’s characteristically narrative opening, her bowing busy and assertive in the composer’s mechanistic passages. The orchestra is small in this treasurable work, but made a powerful presence under Schwarz, the slow movement’s pizzicato strings particularly telling. This attuned accompaniment came to its climax as the cruelly exposed bass drum beat relentlessly under the soloist’s moto perpetuo dance of death.
Kang calmed the mood with a solo Bach encore (from the same period as her eloquent Stradivarius). We hear such a recourse so often, when perhaps it would be better to take the exhilaration of the concerto finale into the interval.
Taking the Dukas harp away during the interval led to the inadvertent staying-open of a huge door leading off the stage, but our senses were fully engaged by a vivid, full-throated account of Dvorak’s glorious Symphony no.8. Pastoral imagery, horns calling proudly through the sounds of nature, tender lilts and deep emotional warmth were all conveyed so grippingly under Schwarz.
In this generous reading of what was almost a Central European Concerto for Orchestra (preceding Bartok’s by 50 years), flute and timpani were particularly outstanding, and the trombones in the finale stunned us in the passages they shouldn’t really have been practising onstage pre-concert and during the interval.