Symphony Hall ****
This well-attended CBSO matinee held an extra significance for me, telling as it did the story of my musical childhood: family legend has it that I conducted Rossini’s Thieving Magpie Overture in front of a mirror at the age of two (those who witnessed it are no longer alive to confirm it); when I was 12 I fell in love with the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola; and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony was the first music I really adored, and Father Christmas brought me the LP when I was 9.
Soul-barings over, the performance of the Rossini under Julian Rachlin was full of wit and character, percussion delicately controlled (not least the stereophonically-placed snare-drums), and there was absolutely heroic work from the solo trombone.
Rachlin took up his violin, joined by violist Sarah McElravy, for the Mozart, in an account which disappointed right from the start. The note-values in the opening two bars are carefully structured, each note half the length of its predecessor, but here Rachlin seemed to have introduced some baroque double-dotting. What followed certainly brought a heartening display of empathy between the soloists and attentiveness between them and the orchestra, but this reading remained subdued, underpowered and under-characterised. Bringing the acoustic canopy lower might have helped.
Reunited with his baton, Rachlin shaped a Pastoral Symphony in which the underlying flow of the first two movements threw into relief the wonderful layers of woodwind and horn contributions which the conductor balanced so well. Again, though, I had a quibble about rhythmic definition, when, in the famous birdsong coda to the Scene by the Brook, Rachlin had the cuckoo warbling a Scotch Snap instead of even quavers.
A suitable earthy Peasants’ Merrymaking was disrupted by a storm of cataclysmic terror, trombones making a stentorian entrance, and shallow-dished timpani rattling with scary effect; the subsequent Shepherds’ Hymn ended in a sensitively-achieved sunset of glorious tranquillity, making me remember that as a little boy I used to cry at such beauty.