CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★

This was an exhilarating concert shared between the music of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, culminating in a fulminating display of the latter’s second symphony. I suspect that having seen that it was scheduled for February 14 someone in the marketing department decided to boost it as a St Valentine’s Day event. Not a bad idea commercially – I’ve never seen so many young couples at a CBSO event before, most of them clearly newcomers. I hope any romantic hopes weren’t dashed by the music’s texts and subtexts:the lovers in Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ lying dead in each others’ arms; the teenage heroine Tatyana’s amorous illusions shattered as her idealized would-be lover Onegin is revealed as a morally vacuous narcissist; and Beethoven’s concert aria ‘Ah, Perfido!’ where the soprano denounces her lover as “Faithless one, perjured, barbarous betrayer,” as he exits despite her pleas. No happy endings there – just terrific music.

The performances of Natalya Romaniw, the Welsh soprano of Ukrainian heritage, shone as brightly as her shimmering gown. I saw her sing Tatyana in a disappointingly drab Welsh National Opera production of ‘Eugene Onegin’ at Birmingham Hippodrome several years ago where the quality of Romaniw’s voice was its saving grace. The radiance, warmth and purity of attack are still there but with greater emotional depth in Tatyana’s Letter Scene where the shifting moods of Tchaikovsky’s heroine – doubt, hope, despair, passion and timidity – were vividly realized. The CBSO’s playing under Vassily Sinaisky was suitably swooning and lustrous, the horns’ refrain aching with melancholy. ‘Ah, Perfido!’ is Beethoven’s tribute to Mozart’s operatic heroines – it could pass as an alternative aria from ‘Don Giovanni’ – and Romaniw pleaded cajoled and railed against her turncoat lover ending with a climactic “Am I not worthy of pity?” Cue tremendous applause. What a Donna Anna she would make.

Sinaisky paced ‘Romeo and Juliet’ judiciously, the slow burn leading to the long-anticipated coruscating appearance of the long-breathed love theme. Such a pity it was spoiled by two stewards who decided that it was the perfect time to let in ten latecomers who – unable to find their seats in the dark – scrambled around the stalls during the musical apotheosis. I hope this was an isolated misjudgement and not a “new vision” initiative to make concerts more “accessible”. In Beethoven’s Symphony No.2 Sinaisky gave an old-school reading in the great tradition: notes given full weight and length, not chivvied, chopped and squeezed by “historically informed” pedantry. After the slow ruminative introduction the first movement accelerated away, the gentle Larghetto's surprising central storm erupted in a Beethoven “gotcha!” movement and the finale’s high jinks were irresistible.

Norman Stinchcombe

Popular posts from this blog

Jacquie Lawson e-card music

Some Enchanted Evenings at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne