The CBSO celebrates the waltz with Richard Strauss and Ravel

CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★

According to Wagner, Beethoven’s seventh symphony was “the apotheosis of the dance”. Not sure about that. Richard Strauss’s opera ‘Der Rosenkavalier’, however, is without doubt the apotheosis of the waltz. Strauss wields his formidable skills with a huge orchestra and at prodigious length in this love letter to Vienna’s beloved dance. His twenty-minute Suite is a brilliant highlight reel, from its whooping orgasmic opening – great horns – to the tender sighs when the Marschallin recognizes her fading attractions. At one point the music paused, then CBSO leader Eduard Tzkindelean trilled and launched the orchestra into a hurtling, delirious dance. In an incendiary performance of Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ last season conductor Fabien Gabel moulded ‘Un Bal’ with a sure grasp of rubato, the rhythmic give and which is the essence of the waltz. He was just as adept here, drawing some scintillating playing from every section of the orchestra. The formula succeeded again in the ideal musical complement – Ravel’s ‘La Valse’. It assembles itself from fragments, rumbling bass chords, a few dabs of woodwind, until gradually there arises before us fully formed, a waltz. The waltz to end all waltzes, whirling its way in centrifugal madness to its final, grinding dissonant bars. A threnody for the Austro-Hungarian empire dancing itself to oblivion.

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is not a confrontational work. The soloist doesn’t seek to dominate the orchestra, subdue or cajole it. When Tchaikovsky launches that big, swaggering first movement tune – brass fanfares to the fore – the soloist smiles silently on. In 2008 Baiba Skride recorded a fine version of the concerto with the CBSO and her fellow Latvian Andris Nelsons. She’s modified her approach now, emphasizing the lyrical, inward and delicate aspects. The ballet’s never far from Tchaikovsky’s music and Skrida’s duets with the CBSO wind players were miniature pas-de-deux. Of course Skride has the fiddling firepower when needed – the first movement’s accelerating climax drew spontaneous applause from the many youngsters in the audience, with no condemnatory frowns or tutting from their seniors. Rightly so – a century ago any virtuoso would be devastated not to have been applauded. The Canadian composer Samy Moussa writes that, “I always start a composition from the beginning.” Fair enough, if not especially illuminating. The opening of his overture ‘Crimson’, from 2015, was illuminating – all shimmering cymbals, tintinnabulating bells, a huge orchestra in top register, like being blinded by sunshine through your car windscreen. In the succeeding ten minutes Moussa used his huge forces deftly – plenty of musical chiaroscuro – and interestingly, the diminuendo ending feeling inevitably right.

Norman Stinchcombe

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