A Fine Finale and great expectations for the new CBSO Season

CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★

Like many people Kazuki Yamada spent last Sunday soaking up the summer sunshine on a trip to the countryside. Taking in the sylvan beauty of the Malvern Hills was something of a busman’s holiday for him. Those hills were a source of inspiration and spiritual sustenance for Elgar – the perfect way for Yamada to prepare for conducting the composer’s first symphony. It may have contributed to this passionately idiomatic performance, with every player from section leaders to the back desks in refulgent form. There are conducting pitfalls in the symphony’s Adagio – beauty alone is not enough. Sinopoli, for example, achieved that but did so by making it sound like Bruckner – solemn, beautiful and utterly chaste. Elgar shared Bruckner’s Catholic faith but he was a passionately romantic man and his music is often as sensual as that of Wagner and Richard Strauss. Yamada, and the revitalized CBSO strings, conveyed the movement’s yearning, pulsing and surging nature with passages of time-stands-still ravishing beauty. The extrovert boisterous Elgar was here too: CBSO’s brass section letting rip in the roistering second movement and Elgar’s big tune returned, burnished and blazing for the symphony’s final flourish. The CBSO will perform the work on their tour to Japan later this month. Yamada believes the audiences will enjoy it – you bet they will.

First stop though is the Aldeburgh Festival and a case of taking coals to Newcastle with Benjamin Britten’s ‘Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings’. Ian Bostridge is a nonpareil in this work: for beauty of tone, obviously, but also his dramatic shaping and shading of the six songs’ texts. The terror and foreboding of Tennyson’s ‘Nocturne’ were suitably chilling with the repeated cry of ‘Dying’ like the tolling of a funeral bell. The CBSO’s principal horn Elspeth Dutch was bright and urgent in response to Bostridge’s peremptory ‘Blow, bugle, blow’ and delicately hushed when voicing the ‘horns of Elfland’. Her offstage farewell to Bostridge’s Keatsian ‘seal the hushed Casket of my soul’ was eloquent.

The CBSO’s series of Centenary Commissions have been a resounding success with the World Premiere of Dani Howard’s ‘The Butterfly Effect’ continuing that run. Her extrovert ‘Argentum’, played by the CBSO Youth Orchestra in 2021, displayed her skill in generating musical energy with a driving minimalist style. Her new piece uses that strategy, a gradual accumulating momentum, but in a more interesting way. I was reminded of John Foulds’ ‘April – England’, minus the quarter-tones but with added piquant glissandi. Both share that surging quality – Dylan Thomas’s “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower” – but Howard’s work ends in a satisfyingly quiet, post-coital sigh of contentment.

Norman Stinchcombe

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