Symphony Hall *****
The rampant joyousness of this wonderful concert was tinged with a slight element of sadness, marking as it did the final appearance of Ruth Lawrence, retiring after nearly 40 years of stalwart, unobtrusive service among the first violins of the CBSO..
Kazuki Yamada, soon to become the orchestra’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Adviser, paid her a charming, deeply-felt tribute – and then launched into the most amazingly energetic and characterful account of Holst’s Planets I have ever heard. There was driving force, drama and otherworldliness in this reading, but also a remarkable discipline and balance from every member of this huge ensemble.
Holst’s deeply researched astrological thumbnail portraits of the deities naming the seven planets visible from the Earth at the time of the work’s composition brought vivid results from this probing, enthusiastic conductor and such a well-rehearsed and responsive orchestra, from the grim horrors of Mars to the serene, glacial otherworldliness of Neptune, with every movement between grippingly communicative.
Its performance brings massive visual spectacle, too, with this phalanx of 100-plus players. The sight of the two timpanists in action (how cleverly Holst gets every note of the scale out of them), was impressive indeed, and it was fascinating to observe the varied articulations of the two harpists. And particularly memorable was the sight of Yamada, always so choreographically attuned to the music, galumphing through the orchestra during the penultimate movement; this was Strictly Come Uranus.
Julian Wilkins’ CBSO Youth Chorus were magically ethereal from the packed auditorium’s highest reaches as Neptune faded into oblivion. We could scarcely make out when they actually ceased their wordless vocalising, though one camera-happy audience member was too engrossed taking a picture of the whole scene.
Such a performance could easily have stolen the thunder of what preceded it, but such was Alexandre Kantorow’s account of Tchaikovsky’s rarely-heard Second Piano Concerto that this will long live in the memory. Kantorow is a pianist of immense strength and sturdy conviction, able to colour his sound even when playing with full reserves of power. He can also make the quietest of passages tell through the textures.
The concerto is a strange one, soloist and orchestra often playing apart from each other, but when the score does demand collaboration, the empathy here between soloist, conductor and orchestra was like a joyful melding of ingredients in some gorgeous confection.
And the chamberlike slow movement was beyond heartstopping, Kantorow joining concertmaster Eugene Tzikindelean and lead cellist Martin Smith in a colloquy of the most beautiful inwardness. Anyone expecting the Emperor Concerto, as this Tchaikovsky was designated in the shoddily proof-read programme, would have found here a rapt interlude to match that in the Beethoven work.
I put my hand up and agree that Kantorow’s encore here was entirely appropriate. To all the punters who flattered my by assuming I would instantly know what it was, I have found out from my spies that it was Valse Triste by Jeno Vecsey, arranged for piano by his Hungarian compatriot Gyorgy Cziffra.