CBSO BENEVOLENT FUND CONCERT

                                                            Symphony Hall *****

The Benevolent Fund concert is one of the joyous highlights of the CBSO calendar, all performers (including conductor and soloists) as well as stage-staff and many others giving their services free, and bucket-collections overflowing in the cause of aid to CBSO members in need of medical help or assistance of other kinds. I am proud to reveal that the Fund is one of the few beneficiaries in my will, so great is the pleasure the orchestra has given me over nearly 60 years.

Another joy of the event is the appearance of so many well-loved faces from the orchestra’s past, now swelling the audience to relish how far the CBSO has advanced even since their own glory-days.

And advanced it certainly has, with an almost inconceivably glittering future beckoning under Kazuki Yamada, who barely a week into his official appointment as Principal Conductor presided over this all-Russian programme (nul points to those who would banish that country’s great creative icons from the cultural map).

Yamada never stops! He has obviously rehearsed brilliantly, but in performance he is mega-active, sculpting and cajoling, dancing and wheedling, and the players respond with instinctive interaction. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture was the perfect vehicle to display this relationship, winds so sombre, cloaked in the chant-like laments, strings crisp and cutting in the stormy outbursts, tempi so well-judged as the tragedy unfolded. (I was to hear another performance of this wonderful piece four-and-a-half hours later, as you can read in my Leamington Festival review).

Lighter stuff came with Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto, Freddy Kempf agile and articulate at the keyboard, and Alison Balsom interjecting her trumpet so significantly and game-changingly at crucial points (this was originally intended as a trumpet concerto). The threads throughout this concerto are so crucial, and it was heartening to see the alertness passing between Balsom to Kempf and on to Yamada, dancing along with the CBSO strings.

Finally back to Tchaikovsky and his final symphony, number six, the Pathetique. It was revelatory to hear how much its doom-laden opening movement uses the same template as the Romeo and Juliet Overture, Yamada conjuring an infinite amount of detail and resource from the strings.

In the two middle intermezzo movements the conductor’s natural balletic instincts persuaded the players to colourful responses. After the hollow triumph of the third movement’s glitter we should immediately plunge into the finale’s depths of despair, but Tchaikovsky’s miscalculation at creating such a triumphant ending naturally prompts applause, as happens here.

Yamada looked disappointed, but nothing like what happened at the end of the finale. After such a heart-rending expression of misery and impending doom, strings digging into the incessant descending scales taking us down into oblivion, a tam-tam signals religious obsequies, delivered with such dignity here by trombones and tuba, to be followed by nothing.

Except some insensitive souls in the audience took it upon themselves to burst into applause even as Yamada was standing stock-still, shoulders hunched, waiting for the sadness to pass. His usually beaming face said it all.

Christopher Morley

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