‘Street Music’, CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★
The designated title of the concert was a bit stretched for Bernd Alois Zimmerman’s 1955 trumpet concerto. In truth it was more ‘Sheet Music’ than ‘Street Music’.The work takes its title from the black slave spiritual ‘Nobody knows de trouble I see’ but that’s hidden away under Zimmerman’s then fashionable twelve-tone row structure. He utilized a jazzy array of saxophones, Hammond Organ and pounding rhythm section, but unlike in Bebop, the contemporary hip jazz form at the time, doesn’t start with the tune and then improvise on it. The work lasts thirteen minutes but it's only after eleven of them that it emerges in a lonely valedictory solo, tenderly played by the ever-resourceful virtuoso Simon Höfele. It’s a lightbulb moment. Those preceding cacophonic minutes, the orchestra chugging away underneath Höfele’s wailing impassioned playing, was the “trouble” before the final quiet mixture of triumph and resignation. An impressive performance of music that often sounded more Darmstadt than Dixie.
The conductor Kevin John Edusei seemed right at home in this cross-fertilized music just as he was in the classical-meets-movie-music Suite from Nino Rota’s ballet ‘La Strada’ which Rota refashioned from his score for Fellini’s film where characters escape grim war-ruined Italian cities for life on the road with the circus, depicted in the riotous first section. Edusei gave the CBSO players their head, eliciting a gorgeous violin solo from assistant leader Philip Brett – ‘passionate and dolorous’ as Rota wanted – and Jason Lewis’s elegiac trumpet solo, a precursor of the pervasive motif Rota used to great effect in his score for ‘The Godfather’. In Duke Ellington’s musical portrait ‘Harlem’ the CBSO’s expanded percussion section let rip under Edusei’s enthusiastic conducting. The work is a joyous riot of colour, rhythmic exuberance with some sumptuously tangy crushed “blue” notes. Fun for both players and audience who, with a little encouragement from Edusei, clapped along to the percussion break. Like Shakespeare’s Cleopatra. age has not withered, nor custom staled the infinite variety of Stravinsky’s ballet score ‘Petrushka’. The coruscating brilliance, ingenuity and poker-faced sly wit of its orchestration continue to dazzle the listener. The CBSO’s lively playing – hearty, sometimes comically parping brass balanced by Oliver Janes’ wistful clarinet – brought the characters and bustling Shrovetide Fair vividly to life.