Symphony Hall *****


The afternoon began innocuously, if such a word can be used to describe the concert-opening Brahms Tragic Overture in such a glowing, string-rich account from the CBSO under Alpesh Chauhan. Many present on both sides of the footlights will have seen the conductor develop from his days as a cellist in the Birmingham Schools’ Symphony Orchestra and the CBSO Youth Orchestra, until today he is among the country’s busiest, most sought-after young conductors.

But what followed in this traditional table d’hote menu (overture, concerto, symphony) will long remain in the memory. CBSO concertmaster Eugene Tzikindelean took centre stage as soloist in the rarely-performed Nielsen Violin Concerto, a big, spectacular work tackled here with immense aplomb and authority by Tzikindelean’s mellow, communicative instrument.

The work is awkwardly structured. It begins with an immense cadenza, and several will follow, all designed to show us the violin’s capabilities, rather than just to show off flashily. The bi-partite opening movement ends with such roistering and vehemence that many could be forgiven it was in fact the work’s conclusion. The final second movement is Nielsen at his more characteristic, with a folky rondo-dance. Earlier there are chatty little epigrams in the first movement’s allegro cavalleresco (sometimes the convention of using Italian seems absurd), and there are some exquisite pastoral interludes.

Tzikindelean brought us a gorgeous selection-box of sounds, with impeccable intonation right into the stratosphere. He even survived an unfortunate string-breaking, picking up unfazed to continue, and performed all the time with a concertmaster’s attention to his orchestral colleagues.

Their response (and ours) to him as the work ended was boundless in its warmth and admiration. For once there was a perfect encore, a miniature by Tzikindelean’s compatriot, another great violinist, Georges Enescu.

Then came the most heartwarming surprise of all, Tzikindelean taking up his habitual concertmaster’s seat and delivering some exquisite solos in Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. This was a well-considered patient reading, Chauhan’s confident conducting-style sweeping through the paragraphs, trusting his players after careful rehearsal, at one point even ceasing to beat while his strings delivered with the empathy of a chamber-music quartet.

At the end of the deliberately synthetic, sardonic triumph of Shostakovich’s finale the reception Chauhan received was the icing on the cake of such a rewarding “family” afternoon.

Christopher Morley

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