CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★

Perfect storms are a rare confluence of events which result in apocalyptic weather conditions. The musical equivalent happened here, erupting into a thunderously scorching performance of Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’. The CBSO’s players were hyped and pumped like combative athletes directed, cajoled and invigorated by Hurricane Kazuki – the 100mph conducting gale from the east. Kazuki and the players embraced Berlioz’s opium-saturated nightmare and revelled in its extremes, with Tony Alcock’s bass section possessed, a terrifying grinding force of nature. In the ‘Scène aux champs’ the aching nostalgia of the pastoral duet between Rachael Pankhurst’s cor anglais and the offstage oboe was as exquisite as I expected but the mid-movement eruption Yamada engineered – raging, surging energy with a sudden collapse into detumescence – revealed to me that Berlioz had anticipated Strauss’s orchestral depiction of sexual ecstasy in ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ by eighty years. Clarinettist Joanna Patton’s 2022 performance of the romantic idée fixe’s satanic distortion impressed, but here she ratcheted it up to utter depravity, wailing like a corrupted lost soul, a besmirched Madonna. Totally satisfying in itself the symphony sharpens the sense of anticipation for this team’s ‘The Damnation of Faust’ in April. The many young people in the audience – students and several school parties – cheered, stamped and applauded wildly without the need of screens, lights shows and conceptual presentation to make it “accessible”. The power of music was enough – CBSO chief executive please note.

The CBSO’s leader Eugene Tzikindelean looked drained at the end of the symphony, marshalling the first violins magisterially as always, and no wonder – for he had given a consummate display as the soloist in Walton’s Violin Concerto in the first half. Who needs a “star” soloist with someone of Tzikindelean’s abilities in the first chair? The lyrical opening movement captured Walton’s mixture of romanticism with a dash of bitter spiky wit. Walton wanted the opening theme to be played "sognando" (dreamily) and Tzikindelean caressed it with tender care, but also switched gears into virtuoso mode for the passages in which its first executant – the great Jascha Heifetz – had demanded more difficulties from the composer. The finale, a nostalgic backward glance at the opening theme topped off by a bracing alla marcia, had soloist and orchestra in sparkling unanimity.

We began with the UK Premiere of a CBSO Commission of ‘Wavering World’ by British-based Japanese-born composer Dai Fujikura. “Atmospheric” is the adjective of first resort for critics faced with new music but with pieces shorn of the inbuilt narrative drive of sonata form, or an inspirational structural programme, it’s often quite apt. Fujikura’s rhapsodic work has long passages of shivering, sighing, string susurration several times interrupted by ominous timpani rolls that presaged...well not very much really. Amiable enough but the material was stretched thin for its fifteen minute duration.

Norman Stinchcombe

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