CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★

What at first glance looked like a disparate collection became in performance a thoroughly cohesive selection of music. Fairytale was the thread connecting the three orchestral works which framed two concertos featuring the young British saxophonist Jess Gillam whose playing sparkled even more brightly than her technicolour glittered trousers. The concert was off to a cracking start with the overture from Rossini’s Cinderella comic operaLa Cenerentola’. Brazilian conductor Eduardo Strausser set a spanking pace, the CBSO delivering the composer’s trademark crescendi with gusto with well-characterized humorous interjections from the woodwind.

Placing Stravinsky alongside music from his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov is always instructive, the young genius learned so much from the old master in terms of orchestral colour and piquant combinations of instruments. The Suite from Rimsky’s opera ‘The Golden Cockerel’ has some of the ingredients Stravinsky adopted, and adapted, for his great ballet scores: the strange shifting hard-to-pin-down opening harmonies that gradually coalesce and define themselves; the imaginative and piquant use of a large timpani section; the piercing, shrieking brass interjections. The CBSO’s wind section was in fine form (when are they not) in ‘The Firebird’ Suite, plaintive and witty by turn with Elspeth Dutch’s horn call announcing the ballet’s resolution absolutely magical. What a pity we only had the edited highlights rather than the complete 1910 score.

The scheduled soloist for the 1948 premiere of Villa-Lobos’s ‘Fantasia for Saxophone’ asked for the work to be transposed such was his difficulty playing the top notes on a soprano saxophone. No problems for Gillam who soared and carolled seemingly without effort in passages which required both exacting breath control and fingering especially in the lively Tres Animé concluding movement. Even more enjoyable was ‘Escapades’, a three-movement concerto by John Williams adapted from his score for Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film ‘Catch Me if You Can’. Gillam swapped soprano for an alto saxophone in a jazzy work that exploits its singing high register and honking rasping lower one. The opening movement was catchy and finger-snapping (literally) and there was fine interplay from the jazz trio within the orchestra where Gillam was joined by Tony Alcock (plucked bass) and Adrian Spillett (vibes).

Norman Stinchcombe

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